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609: Why You Need to Stop Multitasking and Start Singletasking with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "You can either do one thing well or two things poorly at any given moment."

Devora Zack debunks multitasking myths and shares how singletasking can help you get more done– one thing at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why multitasking reduces your efficiency 
  2. How to unplug effectively 
  3. Why we get addicted to multitasking 

About Devora

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street JournalUSA TodayUS News & World ReportForbesSelfRedbookFast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate NetworkingManaging for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Devora Zack Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Devora, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Devora Zack
It’s a pleasure to be back with you. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear, you’re doing a lot of interesting work and research and speaking and training. Tell me, have you had any cool insightful new discovery since the last time we spoke?

Devora Zack
Oh, yeah, I’ve had so many cool discoveries since we last spoke mostly about how to transform the virtual environment into one where people really can connect in deep meaningful ways whether it’s networking or interpersonal connections. It can be done. And I’ve had a great time uncovering those possibilities and helping people feel more connected during this challenging time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that sounds so good. We might have to have a third appearance because that’s right up our alley. But we’re all prepped up to talk about singletasking today. But if you found some tools, yeah, maybe drop those into the favorite things and integrate some of that and the goodness here as a sneak peek. So, I want to talk to you about singletasking, sort of what’s the big idea here and how do you define singletasking versus multitasking? Like, what counts versus doesn’t count when we’re determining something multitasking?

Devora Zack
Well, just let’s start with understanding the foundation of my work, which is that multitasking is a myth. It’s actually impossible to do two simultaneously competing activities in your brain at the same time. So, when people claim to be multitasking, what is actually happening is what the neuroscientists call task-switching. And when we’re task-switching, what’s happening neurologically is our brain is very, very rapidly moving back and forth between tasks, and that has all kinds of negative impacts on our lives internally and externally.

It makes us less productive, which is interesting because the big reason people say that they “need to multitask” is because they have so much to do. So, doing that makes us unable to enter an emerging state or a flow state because, by definition, we’re not focusing deeply on one task in front of us. It lowers IQ and, here’s the biggie, it even shrinks the gray matter in the brain. So, multitasking isn’t really multitasking, it’s task-switching and it has a whole range of negative effects on us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, those sound negative. So, could you share with us any of the most hard-hitting research, like the alarming numbers or studies or stats that would make us say, “Whoa! I’m convinced. I got to cut this out”?

Devora Zack
There’s so much. I think that what is alarming and overwhelming is that this international research done over the past 10 years in the highest esteemed institutions and organizations are all in agreement, they’ve all been consistent, that attempting to do more than one thing at a time is neurologically impossible, and that it does everything from harming our relationships, it makes us much less respectful than we used to be of people who are standing in front of us engaged in a conversation, and it also makes us feel professionally because we’re not able to maintain focus on one thing at a time.

And just as a quick aside, when you said I have a virtual environment, what’s interesting and maybe it links to singletasking, it absolutely does because it’s getting even harder now because we’re all sitting behind screens so much at the time, it’s very tempting to allow ourselves to be distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. It’s sort of like right now we can see each other but you don’t really know what I’m looking at. I’m looking at my prepared questions but I could be looking at any number of other interesting news articles or Facebook or you name it while, supposedly, having a meeting, and I’m not really there at all.

Devora Zack
And we have all kinds of reasons for that. We can say, “Oh, I’m very effective at doing this. I can get away with it,” or, “I’m being more efficient,” or, “The meeting is not interesting anyway.” But one thing I can say is that, just to do a reality check for ourselves, we know when someone else is not giving us their full attention, whey they pause between a question and answer, when they ask to repeat. So, we’re not tricking anyone either when we’re living distracted lives. I call it SBS, scattered brain syndrome, that we’re dealing with these days.
Sometimes people say to me, “But, Devora, I can multitask, I can go for a run and listen to music, or I can empty the dishwasher and talk on the phone.” So, that’s an important point to raise because it’s all touched in my book called “When Multitasking Isn’t Multitasking.” So, it’s only considered multitasking if the two activities are competing for the same brain space. So, if, for example, I’m on a conference call and I’m squeezing a stress ball, that’s totally fine. It’s when I’m on a conference call and returning emails that things start to fall apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, it’s like we can’t compete for the same channel or function stream or capability. I guess, are there…how might we segment that? So, running and listening is fine, stress ball and online meeting is fine, I guess one is physical and one is mental. How do we think about the channels that we have available that are distinct from one another?

Devora Zack
It’s a good question and an important question because we tend to err in the direction of thinking that things are not competing for the same set of our brain. So, for example, if I’m driving in my car, and at home, on a route, I take all the time, then I may not need as much of my conscious part of my brain as if I’m on a business trip driving in the rain in the dark and somewhere I’ve never been. So, we tend to overestimate our ability to do two things at once. So, I caution people to really think hard about, “Are two tasks really separate?” And as a good example, something that people think they can do, is walk down a busy street while talking on the phone. And, in fact, while we’re all aware by now of the terrible dangers of texting while driving, but a more recent phenomenon is texting while walking. And it sounds silly, but, in fact, there are people fall down staircases, walk into traffic, bash into other people, just because they think, “Oh, I can handle it. I can do it.”

So, really, to spend time in self-evaluation about not only, “What can I physiologically handle doing two things at once?” but also “Maybe I’m diminishing my life experiences personally and professionally by deciding that I’m never where I’m at.” So, part of it is being where you are. Like, how about, when I work with coaching clients, I often encourage them, to take a walk even for 10 or 15 minutes outside without their phone and see how that experience is different from what a lot of us have gotten used to. And the other side of all these studies is they’ve discovered that even if we spend 15 minutes a day being “non-productive,” like if we’re doing a crossword puzzle, or just taking a walk outside, that that actually increases our productivity by 25% overall.

So, there’s lots of good news too, is that by giving ourselves some downtime, for example, there was a Harvard Business Review study that found that if you take lunch, like even half an hour at work without doing work at the same time, that you’re more productive over the course of the day. So, if you got to feel guilty about, “Oh, I’m not working hard enough,” just reverse that guilt, and feel guilty if you’re not spending some time, I call it time-shifting, shifting down your time so that you can do things that maybe seem idle but actually are very rejuvenating.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Devora, I love that. And any encouragement you can give me to play a game of Fortnite or have a nap or take lunch in the middle of the day?

Devora Zack
Oh, I’m glad you mentioned that. Fortnite, actually…no, I’m just kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
She’s got it all. She’s got it all prepared. And I love the point about just sort of diminishing the quality of your life when you’re not paying as much attention. I remember, boy, when my buddy Mohamad was in town from Dubai, he was on the podcast, and we were just sort of walking in Chicago. We’re trying to find a place to eat, that’s the goal, we’re going to eat lunch. But I was just so happy to see him and having so much fun with the conversation, but I actually made the conscious choice, it’s like, “I’m going to devote zero attention to looking for a place to eat and all attention to chatting with and enjoying Mohamad.”

And it was funny, we walked around kind of aimlessly for a good while, which is fine by me, I’m sure. Any of the food would be perfectly adequate, and then we happen to bump into a great spot. But I think that’s a good point in terms of we can be, without even being aware of it, diminishing our life experience by not thoughtfully, conscientiously choosing “This is the one thing I’m doing now.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. We tend to blame our technology for the interruptions. There’s a section in my Singletasking book called “If Your Phone is so Smart, Can You Teach It to Heel?” and it compares smartphones to puppies. So, we’ve all been around puppies that are cute and adorable and lovely, and around puppies that are out of control and jump up on the table and don’t leave you alone. And who is responsible for that? Is it the dog or is it the owner? So, I think we all kind of know, it’s the owner’s responsibility to keep their puppies, to train them so that they’re good members of a shared society or sidewalk.

And we do the same things with our phones. So, maybe you and I are meeting for lunch, and we haven’t seen each other in a year or two, and I’m like, “Oh, darn. I can’t believe my phone is going off again. Just a minute. Just a minute. This is so annoying. Oh, no, here’s another text.” So, in reality, technology obviously can be a great friend of ours and super useful. However, we need to be in charge of it rather than letting it run away from us.

And there’s all kinds of tips and techniques in my book about ways to manage technology personally and professionally. So, I’ll tell you a fun one since we’re talking about going to lunch with a friend. I’ll tell you a fun one, which is that we can go out with a group and, depending on when you listen to this podcast, to socially distance if necessary, and everyone puts their screens, anything that have screens, onto a chair off to the side, and the first one to touch the pile of phones or screens treats everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. A little pressure.

Devora Zack
Exactly, a little peer pressure. And there’s a version of that you can use for work which I encourage people do, which is if you have a team meeting, is to give everyone, or have everyone if you’re working remotely, an agenda and a pen or pencil, and the only electronics that’s allowed to be on is whatever you’re connecting through, whether it’s Zoom or another platform, and make the meeting half the length of time with everyone committing to be fully engaged. And you’ll be amazed how much more efficient you are, and how much more community you build, and more better connections, because people are there actually together instead of being a million different places at once.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that so much. Well, so we’re going to dig into some particulars when it comes singletasking and how to do it optimally and sort of avoid the multitasking and the distractions, and technology as being one of them. I got a real chuckle, you’ve got an appendix called “Retorts to Multitask-hardliners,” and I think I’ve been here before, and I think some listeners are probably here now, and say, “Okay, yeah, I think I maybe heard about some of that research. And that might be true for the population at large and maybe the majority of people in a given study, but, you know, that’s just really how I like to operate, and it really works well for me. And, boy, I feel so productive, so multitasking works for me, but maybe not most people.” Lay it on us.

Devora Zack
So, I would say, first of all, what kind of mistakes are you potentially making? Like, if you’re responding to an email and, in a team meeting, are you fully engaged or are you answering the questions? Did you hear the questions? And, at the end of the day, how much have you actually gotten done? And then compare it, just test a little bit, just spend an hour or two focused on whatever is at hand. And I really encourage people to start small, and you’ll be blown away by how different your work is and how different your mood is when you focus on one thing at a time.

Another piece of resistance people have to the concept of singletasking is they think that it implies that we’re somehow less productive, or we get less done, or we don’t have as many capabilities, and it’s not about that at all. You can get 10-12 things done in the course of a day while singletasking at any given time. So, it’s not saying you can only do one thing in a 10-hour period. Maybe you can do one thing for a 20-minute period, and that’s all you’re doing, and then you switch to another thing. And it’s the conscious choice that a lot of us aren’t making these days about “What am I committing to in this moment? Am I going to watch my kid play a sport? Or am I editing a legal document for tomorrow’s meeting?” So, just pick one for that time. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the other choice. It just means that’s not your choice in this specific time period.

Now, another resistance people have is they just don’t have the tools, like, we’re overwhelmed. So, set up systems that will not require superhuman strength to overcome temptation. So, an example is if you’re driving in a car, we all know we shouldn’t text while we’re driving, but,” It’s just this once, and I’m at a stoplight, and I’m late, and I’m lost, and I’m going to an important meeting, and I’ll keep looking at…” Like, we always have reasons to convince ourselves to do things that aren’t maybe in our best interest. But don’t require yourself to combat those reasons. Set up, I call it, a fence. Set up a fence to mitigate the temptation in the first place. So, when you get into your car, toss your phone in the backseat under a pile of coats and start driving.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Devora Zack
And you’ll be cursing yourself, probably you’d be like, “Aargh!” but in the end you’ll get there alive.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. What is it, Ulysses or Odysseus kind of getting himself tied to his boat so he could hear the siren song but not be tempted to go toward it and its destruction? It’s sort of like you just decide, you cut off that option, it’s not available to you. So, there it is.

Devora Zack
That’s a great analogy. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And so, I want to get your take in terms of sometimes multitasking feels really good. Is there some neuroscience or some dopamine or neurotransmitter stuff going on in terms of the sensations and how it feels to switch or do a lot of things quickly? What’s going on there?

Devora Zack
So, our brains crave novelty. So, if I’m sitting at my computer inputting data for three hours, and then something pops up on my screen that’s different, my brain is pretty psyched, so there is something to that. And then what we would do then is, there’s various techniques we can use, but one of them is to turn off all auditory bings and all visual popups so that when we’re focusing on writing something that we’re completely focused so we don’t get that novelty in there.

Another is to say give yourself treats. Like, if I’m going to work for 45 minutes, then after that I can do something that’s completely different. Create that novelty for yourself. And you might be surprised at how deeply you go into a thought state, and so I recommend actually setting an alarm so that you don’t have to keep looking at the clock or wondering how long it is. And then when your time goes up for doing your tough tasks, the harder one, then even if you’re like, “Oh, I feel like I could go longer,” it’s better to stop and take a break, because if we stop a task while we’re still excited about it, the next time we engage in it, we’re much more likely to have a positive feeling about it as oppose to if we work, and work, and work until we’re just hating our jobs, and then you’re going to avoid it the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that is just a powerful reframe for me personally. Thank you. To stop when you’re still excited about it means you’ve got some enthusiasm ready for next time. And sometimes I think it’s, “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be enthusiastic about this. I better milk it for all I can right now because it may never come back.” Like, if I feel like doing my taxes right now, that’s a rare event so I better really run after it until it’s absolutely gone. But, instead, I should stop while I still got some enthusiasm left.

Devora Zack
That’s right. It’s like an old saying about a party, “Leave while you’re still having fun.” What you can also do is to do a little self-awareness about why do you think this time, working on your taxes, felt okay. Do you happen to have music on in the background? Were there no distractions? Were you sitting in a different environment? Was it that you did it following an exercise? Just try and identify maybe what made it different so you can replicate that. And other times, it’s just a matter of you don’t feel like doing it. You force yourself to, and 15 minutes into it, it’s not so bad, and you’re in the flow.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Very nice. Well, so I’d love to get your take here, when you talked, you mentioned sort of setting an alarm or an amount of time, “I’m going to do this for this window.” You’ve got an approach called the cluster tasking technique. Tell us how this works.

Devora Zack
So, many of us have an activity or two that takes over our day and it prevents us from getting any of our bigger work done. So, as a way of example, for a lot of people it’s messaging, whether emails or IMs or texting, and we can spend all day messaging and then we never get to the bulk of what we’re here to do. A study, which wasn’t even that recent, it was a few years ago, so I bet these numbers have gone up, found that we look at our phones at an average of 150 times a day for a total of four hours.

So, what we can do instead is to put those tasks, that repetitive task, and for right now we’re just going to call it messaging, it could be a different task for you, and we’re going to find two or three cluster times during the day where that’s all you do. So, maybe it’s right when you get into the office in the morning, right after lunch, and maybe 4:30 near at the end of the day. And you can decide this is a half an hour block, a 45-minute block, and a 20-minute block, or whatever you decide. And so, during those times, all you were doing is reading and responding to messages, and during the rest of your workday, you’re not looking at your messages. And this is a tough pill to swallow, at first, for many people because you’re like, “Well, I have to be available all the time,” and so I’ll address that in a minute.

However, if you’re not like going off the grid for two months, if you do it three times a day, you’re only going to be not looking at your messages for a couple of hours at a time, and, as a bonus, when you are looking at your messages, that’s all you’re doing so you’re not distracted, so you make fewer mistakes, and committing to two different things at one time, or writing the wrong date for an event, so you’re way more efficient overall. So, that’s a great simple technique to try. A lot of my clients say it’s worked really well for them.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that.

Devora Zack
Yeah, thanks. You give it a try. It’s very useful.
So, people say to me sometimes that they need to be available to others and so they have to always have their phones on and nearby. And a general true rule of thumb is if you try to be everywhere for everyone all the time, you’re never anywhere for anyone with full focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Any of the time, yeah.

Devora Zack
So, you can either do one thing well or two things poorly at any given moment. And when people say, “Oh, you need to be available all the time,” if I’m coaching someone, and I might ask some follow-up questions, like, “What do they think they really mean? They really mean that you follow through what you say you’re going to do, that you’re going to be responsive, that you’re clear about deadlines?” And people get used to the idea that “Even though you may not be available to me every minute of the day, when we’re talking, I get your 100% full attention so our conversations are more efficient and shorter, and I get the picture of how helpful it is.” And there’s going to be exceptions.

So, if you were on a conference center, and there’s a huge conference that day, you might need to have your phone with you all day, but just to be aware that there’s exceptions but, most of the time, to err in the direction of saying, “Here is when I’m doing this particular repetitive task.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I like that turn of a phrase there in terms of you can do one thing well and two things poorly, and I think it’s possible, although rare, that, you know what, doing two things poorly is the right choice right now in terms of there’s sort of a mandatory conference call of little value to you and to your team, but it’s, “Hey, everyone’s got to do this thing, so it’s like, okay,” so you just got to do it. But your desk is also a mess and even just a little bit of attention is going to make it better. So, you can make the conscientious choice that, “I know what’s happening here. I’m going to do two things poorly, and that’s the right answer. But most of the time it’s not.”

Devora Zack
And there’s also ways to work within that situation. So, for example, if, again, when I’m working with clients and if they have exactly what you just described, a mandatory department-wide meeting that’s two hours every Thursday, or whatever it is, that there’s an opportunity to, in some cases, delegate that responsibility to maybe someone who works for you who could actually learn from the call and it would be a benefit for him or her to be on that call.

You could say to the group, “I’m available for the first half of the call. So, the items that I can contribute to, is it possible to discuss this in the first half?” And this isn’t always possible, but I’m just saying to always explore options so that you really are where you need to be. And sometimes, also, you might think, “Oh, this call is boring,” and so you start organizing your desk, and then you might miss something, and maybe there was something interesting that just happened.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, there is the risk you take.

Devora Zack
But one thing for sure is that if you’re on one of those calls, you can tell when someone is doing something else, and they’re not impressing you with their professionality when you know they’re distracted. So, part of it might just be building a reputation with someone who’s present.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, yeah. Thank you. Okay.

Devora Zack
I’m a tough cookie.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, absolutely. Sure. And I think there are some exceptions to every principle or guideline, like, “Hey, hundreds of people are out there, everyone’s muted.” Okay. But even then, you have options as oppose to it’s either/or, doing two things poorly or giving this my full attention. You can get creative and say, “Well, maybe I’m here for this part, maybe I’ll delegate,” so there’s many ways to slice it, which I like.

Devora Zack
Actually, one thing I heard recently is that doodling can be a very useful device in staying focused on a conversation. The doodling doesn’t take up a conscious part of your brain, and kind of releasing that extra energy, just by drawing images on a notepad can help people stay focused. That’s another new technique I learned recently.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if we’ve got some lifelong multitaskers, and this is kind of challenging in terms of training the attention to zero in on the one task, how do you recommend we develop that skill, that focus, that discipline?

Devora Zack
So, there’s really two parts of our lives, to speak broadly, that we can apply to singletasking. One is internally, and we’ve talked a little bit about that, like in our brains, how to manage our brains, and the other is externally, how to manage our environment. So, the first thing I’d say is start small and pick something that you can manage and that you think is doable, and also start with something tangible.

So, we have these smartphones and they’re incredible. As a matter of fact, I heard someone recently say, “Really, the phone is just a rarely used app on the smartphone.” They do so much more than just phone-calling now, and so that can be very convenient. It’s also our alarm clock. It’s also our camera. It’s also our flashlight. It’s so many things. And I encourage people to look for places to unbundle some of the potential areas of usefulness in our phone because it can lead to distraction. And a good example is we all know, and every sleep scientist in the world would tell you, the worst thing you can do before going to sleep is to look at your phone, for all kinds of reasons, because the blue light wakes us up, because there could be a stressful text popping up, a news report we don’t want to see. But when we use our phones as our alarm clocks, that’s the last thing many of us do.

So, how about investing in a cool old-fashioned alarm clock that you can play your favorite song to wake you up, and see what it’s like to wake up and fall asleep in a relaxed atmosphere is one example. And so, looking for ways to unbundle. Like, when I teach seminars, I time people a lot of times for timed activities, and for a while I used my phone because there’s a stopwatch on it. Then I realized that I wasn’t unbundling, so I got just an old-fashioned kind of handheld stop…what is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Stopwatch?

Devora Zack
Stopwatch, right. And it’s great, and it keeps me focused. So, look for ways to help yourself succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, before the stopwatch, I had it around my neck, and just even feeling the pressure of it around my neck was a little reminder, “No, no, I’m on the clock for this one.”

Devora Zack
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I’d love your view then, if folks think, “I am too busy for singletasking. I have to multitask,” then a part of the game is really just identifying, “Well, hey, what’s truly the most important thing? Like, what is really worth that?”

Devora Zack
Also, learn some of the science because you’re actually too busy to multitask. You will be way more efficient in getting things done by focusing on one thing at a time. And in my book “Singletasking,” I have some examples of going through a typical day while you’re attempting to multitask versus singletasking and seeing how the time flow works, and it’s based on reality, just through a lot of different people’s experiences, and it’s remarkable. So, we start off with like, “Oh, there’s this bad news.” But now we have this great news that you can live a more sane structured life by doing one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, just how many hours a day do you think is at stake here in terms of excellent singletasking versus poor multitasking? What kind of a lift, or a gain, or a timesaving do you think this adds up to on a daily basis?

Devora Zack
Maybe all our waking hours. It depends what measurement you’re using for what’s a good use of time. So, if you consider a good use of time being with a significant other for 45 minutes for dinner without anyone looking at any screens and talking about interesting topics beyond just the mundane? Do you consider a good use of time to be taking your dog for a walk outside? So, it depends how you define it. What I will say is that in terms of work tasks that there have been, again, studies that show that when someone is having a pure focus on one activity at work at a time, that they’re more creative, more structured in their output, they get it done in less than a few hours, and so it really works in your favor to be fully focused.

And some people say, “I can’t focus anymore. Like, I’ve lost ability to focus because that’s the kind of world we’re living in.” So, when people say that, I encourage them, or you, as you’re listening now, to think of something you love to do. Just think in your mind, if you’re listening to this podcast, of something that you enjoy, it really brings you happiness. And when I ask that question with people in the room with me, I get all kinds of so many different types of answers. Maybe it has to do with doing an athletic activity, or an instrument, or a craft, or a conversation with someone you care about.

And what we find is that there’s a correlation between that act, whatever activity you thought in your mind or said out loud, and the fact that you’re totally focused on it, that it focuses you when you’re doing it, that nothing else exists in the world, that if you love going to museums, and when you’re in a museum, that’s the only thing that exists in the world, or reading a book, or running a race, or whatever it is. That’s part of the appeal. And so, it also shows that you can do it. You can focus. If you thought of even one thing in your life that you really get fulfilled doing, then there’s a correlation in that and being able to focus your brain on other activities. And that’s called mental elasticity.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, tell us then, if let’s say there are some interruptions outside your control, a sudden emergency, an interruption, how do you recommend we refocus?

Devora Zack
Okay. Great. So, I’m glad you asked that because there are emergencies, and we want to go with the flow when there’s an emergency, and it doesn’t negate everything else you’re working on when there’s not an emergency. However, we’re always looking for ways to manage emergencies. So, an emergency can be big or small. So, a smaller type of emergency is you’re being interviewed on a podcast, let’s say, and you’re working from home and someone barges in and starts yelling in your office, your home office, for example, so that would be an emergency you need to deal with.

But we always want to take it one step back, and say, “Is there anything potential I could’ve done to anticipate a possible emergency and how to make sure it doesn’t happen?” So, I encourage people to, very simple low-tech technique, put Post-It notes on your door, if you have a door where you’re working, at home, virtually or in a shared office, and make a note saying, “This colored Post-It notes mean don’t come under any circumstances. This one means come in if it’s super important. And this one means I just closed the door because I don’t like the breeze. Come visit and we’ll chat a little bit.” So, again, it has to do with setting up systems.

Now, let’s say there is something that distracts you and you asked about pulling back in. How do you get focused again? And I would say taking a little in-between time, like, “Maybe I got so scattered or overwhelmed by the emergency that I can’t seem to focus back on the work I was doing before. So, that’s a perfect time for me to let myself go for a walk, or to talk to someone, or get some fresh air, to reboot.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Devora Zack
One thing I’d like to share is that singletasking is a relatively new idea, and it’s also a super old idea, it’s in our nature. So, when we were hunting and gathering, we wouldn’t have done very well if we were distracted all the time, so it’s kind of part of our ingrained human success. It’s ingrained in us to be successful by singletasking. And it’s also a new concept to a lot of us today, this day and age, and so to be kind to yourself when you try these techniques and to give yourself plenty of space to mess it up and to take two steps forward and one step back.

And there are a lot of activities suggested, and also that you can actually use in the book Singletasking. So, the first part of the battle is convincing yourself that it’s worth a try, and the second part is learning how to do it, just like some people are organizing and structure their physical environment, and for others of us, it just seems so impossible. So, there are techniques that can help you be successful. So, I wish you all the best of luck in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Devora Zack
You’ll be happy that you did.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Devora Zack
I love quotes so much. I change my favorite quotes all the time. Okay, here’s one of my favorite quotes right now. I’m sorry, it’s Steven Pressfield, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb, the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Devora Zack
It’s a scientist named Douglas Merrill, and he works on this area of focusing our brains, and the quote is “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem? Everyone is wrong.”

[36:18]

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. And a favorite book?

Devora Zack
The Phantom Tollbooth.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job, or to help virtually remote-working folks connect all the better?

Devora Zack
My favorite tool in helping virtual folks connect all the better is in building connections among them through embracing technology instead of fighting against it. So, I teach a class called “You Are Not Alone,” and instead of saying, “Here are all the things we can’t do,” we take whatever technology each of us has and we figure out what we can do based on what’s right in front of us. And it sounds simple but it makes a huge difference in how we build connections with each other, and how we accept what the possibilities are given what the reality of the situation is.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear them quote it back to you frequently?

Devora Zack
Yes, especially for people that are in fields like ours, whether you’re interviewing people, or working with people, or inspiring people, or writing books for people, what’s a great rule of thumb, because there are so many so-called experts out there, and I love this one. Elinor Glyn, an author, “Life is short. Avoid causing yawns. Be interesting. Be fun. Be unique. Be quirky. Engage people.” Life is short. We don’t want to be the cause of any yawns.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Devora Zack
My website is MyOnlyConnect.com, and it has tons of samples from media, podcasts, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and all sorts of information about my three different books. Networking for People Who Hate Networking just came out in a second edition. It has tons of new chapters and sections that people are finding really useful in this day and age.

Pete Mockaitis
Great. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Devora Zack
Yes. It’s another quote but it’s also a call to action. It’s from Philo of Alexandria, and this is especially important today, “Be kind for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Devora, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you all the best in your singletasking adventures.

Devora Zack
Thank you so much. You, too. I hope it works well for you.

607: How to Make Any Work Energizing and Motivating with Todd Henry

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Todd Henry says: "It's about what you bring to your work, not about the work that you do specifically."

Todd Henry explains how to tap into your personal motivation code to bring more energy and excitement to your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What it really takes to create lasting motivation
  2. How our motivations distract us—and how to curb that
  3. The 27 flavors of motivation

 

About Todd

Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. He is the author of five books, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and the longtime host of The Accidental Creative podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Todd Henry Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I want to understand, you’ve got a secret music album project you’ve been working on. What’s the story here?

Todd Henry
I’m really curious how you even know about that because I’ve only mentioned it very briefly, like a couple of times but, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
We have a prompt on the form when you booked the interview that says, “Tell us something nobody knows about you.” I stole that from Lisa Cummings, her Strengths podcast. It’s like I’m so thrilled.

Todd Henry
I guess I told you then I guess that’s how it happened. I don’t even remember that. Okay, yeah. So, I think maybe we talked about this the last time I was on the show, but I have a background in the music business. I spent a handful of years after college playing music and traveling and all that, and then, frankly, kind of put that on the shelf for a number of years.

And then, for whatever reason, about seven months ago, right before COVID, I picked up my guitar and I just started writing songs again. So, it’s been a really fun, what I call unnecessary creating project, that’s what I call that discipline, is having something in your life you’re creating that’s not your work, something that’s not about you, it’s not about your clients.

So, for the last handful of months, I’ve been putting together a music project, which is just kind of fun, which, by the way, is for my ears only, and maybe like family and select friends so it won’t be coming to a Spotify app near you anytime soon. But it’s just been fun to really explore that side of my creativity again after 20 years. And, to be frank, I’m like really blown away at how different it is recording now versus 20 years ago. What I can do now in my home office is the equivalent of what I would’ve spent 20 grand on in a studio 20 years ago just because of what’s available, app-wise. So, it’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is wild. I love playing that stuff, like the iZotope RX7, 8 is out now, just a few days ago in terms of…well, we can dork out. But I think it sets the stage well, like, hey, your expertise is creativity but your latest book is called The Motivation Code. Kind of what’s the connection or how did you scooch on over into the realm of motivation?

Todd Henry
Yeah, this was a very unexpected book for me to write, not just in terms of people who read my work but for me, it was very unexpected. About four years, a friend of mine, Rod Penner, who was a veteran of a management consulting firm, he had left the firm several years before but I didn’t know what he was working on, and he just reached out to me, he said, “Hey, I want you to take this motivation assessment I’ve been working on.” That was in 2016.

And I don’t know about you, Pete, but I’m sort of one of those guys who kind of roll my eyes whenever I hear, “Oh, here’s an assessment you should take,” because I always think like those quizzes in magazines are something like, “Which Harry Potter house are you a part of?” Like, that’s what I always kind of think, I’m like, “Okay, whatever.” And he’s like, “No, no, no, this is different. You need to take this.”

And so, I did. And, frankly, what I discovered completely blew my mind. I mean, it just really, really amazed me how accurately this assessment described things like why I make the same mistakes over and over again in my life, why some tasks are unbelievably energizing for me, and other tasks are complete drudgery. Like, I would stay up four nights in a row until 1:00 in the morning to do some things, but then you ask me to file some paperwork, and it’s like it’ll take me three minutes but I’ll put it off for a week and a half.

I mean, just all of these patterns why I succeed in some leadership roles and I fail in other leadership roles, all of these patterns were just laid out before me. And this assessment was called The Motivation Code Assessment. And so, I thought, “I’ve got to figure out a way to get this into the world, to get this into other people’s hands,” because it really transformed so much about the way I see my day-to-day work, and I wanted to do that for other people as well.

The only problem was I was in the middle of writing a book at the time called Herding Tigers that came out in 2018. So, I’ve been working on this book in the background for about four years. And over the course of that four years, as I dove into the research, realized that this motivation code assessment is based on over 50 years or research, started in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the outcropping of that work has been developed into this assessment by a team of PhDs and researchers over the course of the last several years, and then I became involved in 2016, and we started working on putting together a book to try to bring this to market, and now the book is available.

So, it’s been a long time coming and an expected twist but it’s kind of one of those things, I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you, where when you come across something that is so unbelievably transformative, you just want to tell everybody about it. And that’s exactly what happened to me with this research.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is exciting in terms of, aha, the scales have fallen from your eyes, and you see and recognize patterns and explanations for what’s going on there. And, indeed, I suppose why you can accomplish some things quickly and go late into the night and other things if they’re really in a short of amount of time, you’re dragging your feet. Boy, I’ve had that same experience. And I imagine, when it comes to creativity, that’s huge with regard to, “Are you motivated to put in that time to do that in excellence? Or are you just sort of like, ‘Yeah, well, you know what, I guess this is a job and I’m contractually obligated to crank it out, so I guess I’ll do that now.’” And it shows up in both how rewarding you feel and meaningful as well as just how much you put in, and, ultimately, the quality of the work product.

Todd Henry
Right. Exactly. And we tend to think of motivation as being a binary thing, “Either I’m motivated or I’m not,” right? But what we’ve discovered is it’s actually where you get your motivational energy, that there are different flavors of motivation, or as we call them, there are 27 different themes of motivation, 27 different ways you can get your motivational energy. And when you’re consistently operating within your top motivational themes, or what we call your motivation code, you are more engaged, you are more creative, you will put more discretionary energy into the work because the work itself is giving you energy. You’re engaging in work that’s not draining you of energy. Instead, it’s giving you energy, it’s feeding you energy, which is a very different way, by the way, of thinking about motivation.

This is not the traditional way that we think about being motivated. We just need to get motivated. You just need to psych yourself up. You just need to go out there and make it happen. Well, the reality is often we’re working against the way that we’re wired when we try to amp ourselves up, we try to motivate ourselves. But if we understand those themes, if we understand what it is that really drives us, we can structure our lives and our work in such a way that we’re approaching it according to where we get our motivational energy, and that completely changes the calculation.

And the other thing we’ve discovered is that when you are operating, to your point about creativity, Pete, when you’re operating within your motivation code, you’re more likely to experience this phenomenon that we call flow, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed and made popular. And flow is that state where you kind of get lost in your work, where the work is challenging enough to kind of keep you engaged but not so challenging that you lose your interest in it. And we’ve all had those moments where we just get lost in the work, where we forget time and we’re just complete.

Well, what we discovered is that there’s a pretty high degree of correlation between operating in your core motivations, those top three motivations, and experiencing flow in your day-to-day life, which is when you kind of have that sense of getting lost in your work. And, of course, that’s going to lead to better work when you experience that phenomenon.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, so that all adds up conceptually. Could you maybe share a specific story of someone who they came to a new discovery via the motivation code, and then, wow, suddenly things were different? They tapped into something big that made a real impact in their work and life.

Todd Henry
Yeah, I’ll give you the example that I’ve been sharing pretty liberally because the example is me, and I’ll tell you how discovering this affected me. So, my top three motivations, my motivation code, are make an impact, meet the challenge, and influence behavior. Meet the challenge is pretty significant. So, make an impact, my number one, is related to the fact that I need to see the direct impact of my work. I have to be able to see that what I’m doing is leaving a mark on the world around me in some capacity.

Number two is meet the challenge. That’s a pretty close second to make an impact. So, here’s an example of how this helped me understand something that was going on in my life. So, in my entire adult life, Pete, I have probably played a grand total of maybe five hours of video games, since I was like 22 years old. So, I’m now 47.

And then about a year and a half a year ago, maybe two years ago, my son introduced me to a game called Fortnite. Are you familiar with Fortnite?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’ve played Fortnite. I played some Fortnite today, Todd.

Todd Henry
Okay, there we go. All right. So, for those who are not initiated, like Pete and I, Fortnite is a game where basically you’re dropped onto an island. You have to basically discover resources and find weapons, and then you have to eliminate other players. And the goal is to be the last person standing or, as they call it, to achieve Victory Royale. So, you want to be the last person standing on the island.

So, what’s great about Fortnite is that it’s challenging, it’s really difficult because you’ve got a hundred other players all of different skill levels. It’s predictable in that there are some pretty clear parameters, but it’s also random because what you do depends on what other people do within the game. And it’s pretty easy to just jump right back in if you get eliminated, so it’s easy access. And then it’s also finite. Like, each game, maybe if you play the entire game, it lasts about maybe 20 minutes, 18 to 20 minutes. So, it’s a really short defined thing.

Well, for somebody who’s wired to meet the challenge, Fortnite is like a narcotic. And let me explain why. So, my son introduced me to this game, he’s like, “I think you might like it. You should try it.” So, I loaded it up on my iPad, and I dive onto the island, and I land, and I think I lasted, like, I took two steps and, boom, I was gone. I was eliminated immediately, right? I was like, “That’s stupid. Play again.” So, I immediately go back into the game. This time I think I lasted maybe like 10 or 15 seconds. By the end of the night, I’d made it like maybe into the top 75.

So, I keep playing this game, and I’m getting better, and I’m getting better, and I’m getting better. And, finally, about a month and a half later, I’m sitting on the couch, my wife is beside me doing something completely ridiculous, like unproductive, like reading a book or something while I’m sitting here playing Fortnite, and so I let out a little whoop. I just achieved my first Victory Royale, Pete. I let out a little whoop, and my wife said, “What happened?” And I explained to her, and her exact response was, “Way to beat that 7-year old, honey. Way to go. Good job.” I’ve never felt so small in my life.

But for somebody wired to meet the challenge, here’s why Fortnite is really dangerous. When I am doing a long-arc project, like let’s say writing a book, that might seem like a challenge to somebody who’s never written a book before, but for me that just looks like a big long-arc project. Something that’s due in a year does not feel challenging to me. It doesn’t feel like an imminent challenge that I need to tackle. So, it’s really easy for me, when I’m working on something like a book project, or something else with a long timeline, it’s easy for me to say, “I’m going to go find something right now I can do that’s  going to feel like a challenge for me.” Fortnite feels like a challenge for me. That’s a distraction that I could easily jump into but there are any number of other things. There are little projects, little things I could be doing that feel like challenges to me right now but are a distraction from the longer-arch work I need to be doing.

So, do you know what I’ve had to do, Pete, is I’ve had to say, “All right. Writing a book is a long-arc project. That takes like a year and a half, two years, from the time you agreed to write the book to the time it hits the market. I need to find ways of establishing little challenges in my work on a day-to-day basis to make sure that my work feels challenging to me.” So, for me, it’s, “I’m going to write 500 words before 9:00 a.m.,” or, “I’m going to write 500 words between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. today. I’m going to write 500 words. That’s my challenge today.” I have to find ways of instilling challenge in my work because if I don’t, I will get distracted by things that are maybe completely frivolous, maybe a waste of my time, but that are satisfying, they’re scratching that meet the challenge itch.

Another one that’s really interesting and unique is, and I hope it’s okay that I say this because we actually share this motivation, as I’ve seen your motivation code report, is make an impact as a podcaster because our podcasts are downloaded a million times a year, and I know yours is as well because I know what your stats are, right? So, as a podcaster, you put lots of stuff into the world but you don’t often get a lot of feedback about the things you’re putting into the world. So, one of the challenges for me, being wired to make an impact, meaning I need to see the impact of the work I’m making in the world, one of the challenges I experienced is that I put things into the world that people don’t respond to. And when people aren’t responding to what I’m doing, I start wondering, “Am I doing the right kind of work? Is my work any good? Should I maybe just sell everything and go move into a Trappist monastery or something? Does any of this make any sense anymore?” Because my motivation of make an impact isn’t being scratched.

And so, sometimes I will do things to achieve an impact just to see that I’m making an impact. I’ll do things that may or may not be helpful to other people just so I can make an impact, or just so I can get some kind of a response from people, because that’s one of my core motivations, that’s one of the shadow sides because you can sometimes try to create an impact where it’s not welcome, because that’s what you’re wired to do.

So, once I began to understand these things and how they play out in my life, and one of my other motivations, my number four is actually overcome. That means I like to work against an enemy. But that means, sometimes, Pete, that I invent enemies where they don’t exist or I invent obstacles to overcome where they don’t exist, and sometimes that can be a waste of energy or a waste of focus. So, once I began to understand how these motivations play out in my life, I began to structure my days, my life, my schedule in a way that was more meaningful. And it actually allowed me to scratch that motivational itch or to get my energy in the right place every day so that my work wasn’t draining to me as much as it was energizing to me.

Now, every motivation is positive but every motivation also has a shadow side. So, once I began to understand some of those shadow side tendencies I just described, I could notice, “Oh, wait a minute, you know what? I’m in a little bit of a funk right now. Does my work feel challenging to me? If not, how could I create a challenge right now? You know what, I’m in a little bit of a funk right now. Am I making an impact and seeing the impact in my work? If not, then maybe I need to find a way to get some feedback about what I’m doing right now.”

Or, for example, I started a folder of feedback letters that people would send me, or emails people would send me, that I can go back and review where people have written to me about what my work means to them. Because in those moments where I’m not getting, I’m not scratching that motivational itch, it helps me to see, “Oh, my work is having impact. I’m still having an impact on people. I just need to remind myself of that.” So, it’s allowed me to structure my life and my days and my work in a way that is more consistent with how I’m wired to get my energy, and this really made all the difference in the world in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Yes, I was just going to ask, and I’m glad you shared it. So, if you’re not feeling that make an impact with your invisible podcast audience, how are you getting there? And so, you check out the folders. And it’s true, like I have times where, well, I just naturally think it’s fun to chat with people like you and learn stuff. But sometimes I don’t think it’s so much fun to like hunker down, like, “Okay, what are the teasers? What’s in the opener? What’s in the closer?” Like, to actually take a conversation and get it across the finish line to, and this is an episode that stands alone and is consumable, digestible and friendly to pop up and listen to. Like, that is not as much fun for me than chatting with folks like you and learning stuff I like.

So, then my motivation can fall a bit short. And it’s so true, when I just think about the impact that I make. One of my favorite comments from a listener was, “I wake up every morning early so I can listen to it twice.” Like, for me to think about…because there’s some content I love, too. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved anything that much. Breaking Bad was so awesome for me but I never woke up early to watch it twice.

So, that’s so cool. And then I had even a little printout in terms of, “Boy, hey, what does it mean to have like 20,000 folks, like demographically in terms of male versus female?” So, I just sort of had images, little icons, that would represent 20,000 people, and sort of look at it. And, sure enough, it helped, and then it got torn up by my toddler, so I should make another one.

Todd Henry
But, yeah, see that’s a classic behavior of somebody driven to by that motivation, make an impact, is you want to see a visible representation of the people that you’re impacting because you can’t see them, right? Even right now, people don’t know this because we’re not recording the video, but we’re actually looking at each other. So, typically, I don’t experience that when I’m recording an audio podcast, but I have no doubt that one of the reasons why you want that feedback is partly related to the way that you get your motivational energy, right, because of wanting to connect with the person on the other side in some capacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. And it seems like folks just…they can feel more that I’m on their side because I think I’m hopefully giving you some smiles here and there. Because sometimes I think it can sound like a grilling or an interrogation, like, “Give me your best wisdom now. Give me another example. Give me the data behind it. Have you really thought through that?” So, like if I’m coming across that way, I want to be able to reassure them, “Oh, no, hey, Todd, it’s just Pete here, and I’m really interested in your stuff so that’s why I’m asking these questions.” That’s what I’m going for.

Well, so then you mentioned a number of these themes in terms, and, boy, we could spend, I’m sure, multiple hours just laying those out. So, maybe why don’t we just do the list because they’ll tee up my next couple of questions? Could you take two or three seconds now to just name them all? And maybe they come into some clusters.

Todd Henry
They do, yeah. So, again, this research has been conducted over the course of 50 years. We’ve had over a million achievement stories shared. And the language that comprises The Motivation Code Assessment actually was parsed from those million achievement stories. That’s where we discovered the patterns of where people described what it is that was motivating to them about their achievements.

And so, they break down, generally, into six families, six families of motivations. What we say is while they are in a family because they share some DNA, they’re also very different in terms of how they play out in your life. So, even though they’re in a family, that doesn’t mean that they all behave the same. Just, for example, if you have siblings, you share DNA but you probably look different and you probably have different personalities and different things you’re interested in, and that’s kind of the same way that these motivational themes exist with one another but are very different.

So, the first family is what we call the visionary family. And, generally, the visionary family is focused on the future. They’re focused on what’s next. Sometimes they struggle to be present because they’re always thinking about what’s coming up. Actually, one of your top themes is a visionary family theme, which is experience the ideal. Another one is make an impact, which also is one of your motivational themes. And then achieve potential is the third motivational theme that falls in the visionary family.

And then we have the team player family. And, as you can imagine, team player family, themes are all about being with other people, being a part of something great. They really get their energy from the collective effort. That’s really where they get their motivational drive. By the way, these themes tend to be pretty low on my motivations. Generally speaking, I tend to be somebody who’s motivated to work by myself and to work alone, and I like that. It’s great. With the exception of our first theme, which is influence behavior which actually is pretty high on my list. So, influence behavior, serve, collaborate, and make the grade are the four themes that fall under team player.

The next family is called the optimizer family. People who are motivated in this way, tend to be people who are good at taking something and making it great. So, taking something that might be operating okay and making it great, perfecting it, tweaking it. They tend to love working with systems and trying to squeeze maximum efficiency out of systems. So, you have the themes improve, organize, develop, make it work, establish, and make it right.

And then we have the achiever family. The achiever family is driven about moving forward, about persevering, about accomplishing things. And the themes in the achiever family are bring to completion, meet the challenge, advance, and overcome. And then the final two themes, or two families, I should say, are the key contributor family. Key contributor family, these are the people who like to be at the center of the action. They like to be the people making stuff happen. So, you’ve got excel, bring control, be central, gain ownership, be unique, and evoke recognition.

And then the final family is the learner family, and these are people who love to explore, they’re people who love to ask questions. These are the people who often get into conflict with the achiever family when they’re working on a project together because they’re asking, “Why are we doing this? Let’s try seven other ways before we settle on one.” And the achiever family people are like, “Let’s just get it done.” But the themes that fall under the learner family are explore, master, demonstrate new learning, and comprehend and express. So, that is all 27 themes in a nutshell, and all of the six families along with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess where that leads me next is, so that’s a nice rundown, and we can see that, yes, those are different. And so, with mine, I’ve got them scored from the top ten: experience the ideal, and then make an impact 9.6, and then on mine on the bottom, evoke recognition 5.2, and make it right 5.1, which is true, I don’t really care about things the right away. In fact, I kind of like it if we’re breaking new innovative territory, and it’s like, “That’s not how it’s done.” It’s like, “Yeah, I know and I love it.” So, it doesn’t really motivate me when it comes to like accounting stuff, like I’m not going to commit fraud or anything, but that doesn’t fire me up, like, “Oh, man, we just really stated those financials perfectly in accordance with Gap.” Like, “Oh, I don’t care. As long as I’m obeying the law and not being a taker or a whatever, I’m all good.”

So, I guess my question is, well, I think it’s a mark of a good assessment is I read the top results, and I say, “Yes, but of course…” and, “Aren’t we all this way?”

Todd Henry
Right, of course. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to get your vibe in terms of is it fairly evenly distributed across the population? Or are there some folks who make it right is their number one, and there are just as many of them as there are of me?

Todd Henry
Oh, absolutely. No question. And not only that, but there are people…I mean, we’ve given this assessment now to tens of thousands of people. What we’ve discovered is there are people with every one of these motivational themes as their top theme in almost any role you can imagine, right? Because it’s not like, “Oh, if your number one is experience the ideal, then you should be a podcaster.” It’s about what you bring to your work, not about the work that you do specifically.

Now, let’s say that you are an accountant, as you just mentioned, and let’s say that your top theme is collaborate, which we have certainly had accountants who are high on collaborate. And let’s say during tax season, you’re stuck in a cubicle doing work, you’re cranking out tax returns in a cubicle by yourself for eight hours a day, you’re probably going to go into a funk and maybe not even know why. You might think you hate your job. You don’t hate your job. What you hate about your job right now is the fact that you have no human interaction for eight hours a day, and you’re fundamentally to get your energy from collaborating with other people.

So, where this is very helpful is in parsing the difference between, “I hate my job,” or, “I hate my tasks,” and, “I hate the way I’m approaching my job,” or, “I hate that I’m approaching my tasks.” Those are fundamentally different things. So, if that is your job, and, for example, you’re wired to collaborate, so you’re going to be in a cube cranking through tax returns all day for eight hours a day, you need to be disciplined about saying, “You know what, I’m either going to, A, find a way to maybe find another teammate that I can do these tax returns with, or in proximity with, or, B, I’m going to structure a social lunch every day. I’m going to take a break in the middle of my day, and I’m going to have social lunch where I get to interact with people, talk about things, we get to collaborate on what’s working, what’s not working, so that I, at least, have some motivational reprieve from these tasks that are going to drain me by the very nature of the tasks because of the way I’m wired.”

Now, somebody else, to your point, who’s wired, say, for establish or to make it right, they might love just being in a cubicle all day just getting it right. That’s all they care about, “If the number is balanced, I’m experiencing nirvana,” because that’s how they’re wired. It doesn’t matter if anybody is around them. They just want to experience getting it right or making things the way they’re supposed to be. So, this is where the difference is between motivational themes and how you score on the motivational assessment. This is how it makes a difference in terms of how you approach your work. It’s not so much about the task you do.

We spend so much time looking for the perfect job, Pete, and that is like chasing vapor. There is no perfect job. Any job you do is going to have tasks you don’t enjoy. But if you learn what drives you, what motivates you, you can begin to structure how you approach your job in a more meaningful way, in a way that will allow you to activate those core motivations more intentionally, more purposefully, and more consistently. And when you begin to approach your work that way, suddenly, you’re going to find, “I’m enjoying my job. I’ve always hated my job but, suddenly, I find that I’m enjoying my tasks more.” Well, it’s because you’re thinking about how to more strategically approach your work according to your motivational types instead of waiting for your job to scratch your motivational itch, which it’s probably not going to do with a few exceptions.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it really is pretty eye-opening there in terms of what I’m drawn to and then what I’m not. And sometimes it’s sort of like, in running a business, it’s like for the goal of running a profitable business, I know that using the metric of expected profit generated per hour demanded of me is the optimizing metric to utilize to get the most of that result.

Todd Henry
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes that is quite motivating in terms of I say, “Oh, look, there’s a really big opportunity to make a big impact. Go after it.” And sometimes it’s just sort of like, “Yeah, I know there’s profit there, but I just don’t really care.” And so, it’s actually hard for me to find the discipline to do the thing that I “should” be doing when there’s not a lot of motivational code alignment embedded within them.

Todd Henry
As I’m just looking right now, because you gave me permission, I’m looking at your top motivations, that’s not what’s going to drive you. If you were driven to gain ownership, for example, or if you were driven by any number of the achiever family themes, you would be somebody who’s like, “I don’t care how many podcast downloads I have as long as I have more than that person over there.” Like, that would be what drives you, “I don’t care how many downloads I have as long as it’s 20% more than what I had last year.” That’s how you would be wired, but that’s not what your motivational themes tell me about what matters to you. Those aren’t the things that you’re measuring.

The challenge is the things that are motivating you are a little more difficult to measure. I have a feeling that you’re never 100% satisfied with any episode that you put out in some capacity. Is that true or is that false?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s absolutely true. Sometimes I don’t like to listen to them too closely because then I’ll start…

Todd Henry
Because you’re judging yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
…critiquing the bejesus out of them.

Todd Henry
Yeah. And part of that is the experience of the ideal motivation which is your top motivation, meaning that you are still chasing the perfect podcast episode, which is why your listeners love you, by the way, that’s why you have raving fans, it’s why you have amazing swag for your show, it’s why all of these things, is because you’re trying to create a best possible version of what a podcast could be, which is fantastic. The problem is that you can’t really ever get there because that’s sort of an idealized understanding of what podcast is. And so, as you’re chasing that, the goalpost just kind of keeps moving. But that also energize, I assume that really energizes you as well. The idea of chasing after the ideal version of a podcast is probably something that really energizes you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. And so, experience the ideal, I guess this is maybe more for me, so that’s both about experiencing, making real my ideals, my values, and such, as well as experiencing the ideal – am I using this philosophy term right, the platonic form, huh, maybe – of podcast to make the ideal podcast that is part of the game, in addition to the fact that making this podcast speaks to the values that I hold dear.

Todd Henry
Yes, absolutely. So, what gives you joy is the process of creating the thing that was in your head and putting it into the world, and then obviously making an impact, that’s your number two, but seeing the impact of the thing that you’re putting into the world. But it’s the process of doing that that really gives you joy of chasing after those ideals, of chasing after the vision that you have in your head, right? That’s what really gives you joy.

And so, some of the traditional metrics that we use to determine success or failure, or on podcasting or any business, quite frankly, are not the things that give you joy. Whereas, somebody else, quite frankly, they don’t care what they’re putting out. Their numbers are going up. They’re great with it. Or if they have 20% more than they had last year, “Great, that’s all that matters. That’s what gives me all the energy I need.”

And so, when you ask the question, “Well, aren’t we all kind of like this?” Well, we’re all motivated by a blend of themes, and all the themes modify one another, but we each have sort of a unique code that really describes where we are when we’re operating in our sweet spot, right? And so, when we begin to understand that, and understand how these top three to five themes really play together in our life, it begins to explain some of these patterns, some of the things, the tendencies that we have, some of the ways that we maybe get ourselves into trouble sometimes, but also those moments when we feel really, really alive.

It explains, for me, why I cry every time I see The Pursuit of Happiness or Rudy or some of these movies, right? It’s because, well, overcome is one of my top themes. Of course, I’m going to be motivated and moved by some story of somebody overcoming the odds. Of course, I am. Whereas, somebody else thinks, “That’s really cheesy.” “What do you mean? What are you talking about?” But, like, yeah, that really…it doesn’t just move me. It moves me to my core, and I never had terminology to explain that before. But now, suddenly, I realize that’s because that’s how I’m motivated. That’s where I get my energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, when you talk about like movies and strong emotions, like, well, hey, I’m a big advocate for, “Hey, man, do some introspection or reflection on that stuff. It’s telling you something.” And it’s funny, so my favorite movie is Life Is Beautiful. And if you think about, oh, geez, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. If you think about the ideal of a father, wow, I mean, what that guy does for his kid, it’s hard to imagine a more challenging circumstance and an ideal response to it for a child. Wow, there you have it. I’m going to have some water, Todd.

Todd Henry
I have no reaction to that. See, that’s what’s interesting. You’re tearing up thinking about it, whereas I’m tearing up thinking about Rudy and all these overcomer movies because that’s such a core part of my motivation, right? And so, in many ways, these motivational themes help us define things that we’ve always sensed but never had language for, which is what makes it so powerful and also so practical, because then not only do we understand but we actually have some stuff we can do about it to make sure that we’re experiencing them more consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, so Todd, let’s see, so if folks who want their motivation code, they get the book, or what’s the easiest cost or most cost-effective way to get as many of the goodies as they can get?

Todd Henry
Yeah. So, there is a version of the assessment in the book, it’s a free version of the assessment that basically gives you your top three themes, tells you what your top three themes are when you take the assessment. So, if you go to MotivationCode.com or just anywhere you can get books, you can buy the book. In there, there’s a link to take you to the free version of the assessment to give you your top themes.

We also have, like you took, Pete, we have a full version of the assessment that you can take as well, but as a good starting point, I think the free version of the assessment will you your top three themes, and really begin the journey of understanding more of what it is that moves you to action.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it sounds like, to summarize, the general parameter here is you get that understanding of what are your top motivational themes, and then you start looking for ways you can align more of your work and life with that, and it may involve trying to do different tasks, or may just be change the way you’re doing your existing tasks.

Todd Henry
Unquestionably. And there’s an entire chapter in the book that’s based on, “So, now what?” Again, we’ve all taken assessments, and then we sort of attach some letters to our name, like, “Hi, I’m an INTP. You?” That’s fine. Not always very practical. Not always very useful. So, really, what we wanted to do was make sure that the book explains to people, “Okay, what can you do about this?” And one of the things we know for certain is that we learn and we grow best in community.

And so, one of the things we recommend is talking to somebody else about what you’re discovering, “Hey, Pete, I just discovered that my top motivation is make an impact, and I’ve noticed that I’m in kind of a funk lately because I’m not seeing a lot of the impact in my work, and I just want to talk about that with you.” Or, “Hey, this thing came up and it didn’t really seem to make sense for me.” I mean, we do have that happen from time to time where people…I was a given a workshop a handful of months ago, and somebody was kind of arguing with me, like, the specific theme was be unique. And they said, “Yeah, but I don’t have a drive to be unique. Like, I don’t wear weird clothes and I don’t have like spiked pink hair. I don’t really have that drive to be unique.”

And this person happened to be a pastor, and I said, “Well, tell me about what you do.” He said, “I’m a pastor, and I give talks.” I say, “Okay, tell me this, if I told you I’m going to write a sermon for you, and I want you just to kind of go out and read that sermon, or deliver that sermon, you’re going to deliver it however you want, but you’re going to use the words that I give you, and you’re going to use the terminology I give you. Would that be satisfying to you?” He’s like, “No, because what I say has to be a unique expression of how I see the world and who I am.” And I said, “You just used the phrase in describing back to me.” It’s like, “You’re arguing to be unique isn’t your motivation but you’re using that exact phrase to describe back to me what it is that drives you.”

And so, sometimes people, when they first discover what their motivational themes are, they don’t necessarily understand what it means to them, and then in the course of talking with others about it, they suddenly realize, “Oh, this does make sense,” because people can reflect back to them what they see in their life in a way that helps them contextualize what these motivations actually mean in terms of how they’re playing out in their day-to-day life. So, that’s one of the things that is really important.

And, listen, we learn and grow in the context of community in any way. I need you, Pete, you need me in order to really fully see ourselves. Like, we do because we all have blind spots. And so, that’s one of the main things I want to make sure people take away from this, is don’t just go do this and then say, “Okay, that was interesting,” and then walk away from it. But, instead, talk about it with someone else and invite them to speak into your life as well, and say, “Hey, where do you see this playing out in my life? How do you see these things playing out? And what do you think I can do to better position myself to experience these motivational themes more consistently?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Todd, any final thoughts before we shift gears to hear about some of your favorite things?

Todd Henry
I think the main thing is just recognize that, especially if you manage people or if you’re somebody in a role where you have organizational responsibility, I think traditionally we have relied on blunt force methods to motivate people, whether that be pay raises, words of encouragement, flexibility, things like that, and the reality is those things work for a season and then everybody reverts to the mean. They don’t last because they’re blunt force.

If you want to engage your team, and if you want to engage the people around you, the absolute way to do that is they understand the specific code that unlocks their motivation, and you owe it to them. If you’re a manager of people, you owe it to your team to understand what it is that uniquely drives them and brings their best work out on a day-to-day basis.

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Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Todd Henry
Yeah. So, my favorite quote in the world is actually from Thomas Merton. I don’t have it in front of me so I might get it wrong, but it’s, “There can be an intense egoism in following everyone else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success, and they’re in such a hurry to get it, they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them, they justify their haste as a species of integrity.”

So, what’s interesting about that is they want quick success and they’re in such a hurry to get it, they cannot take time to be true to themselves. I think we have so many people around us who are in a hurry to become successful to the point that they forget who it is they are and what they value, and, in the end, they may achieve what they were going for and realize it’s hollow because they abandoned everything that they value in order to accomplish it.

And so, I’m a firm believer that who you’re becoming is much more important than whatever it is you’re accomplishing in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Todd Henry
In the book, I talk about the work of Deci and Ryan and some of the work that they did in exploring motivation, and kind of how motivation plays out in our day-to-day life. And they were some of the first people to discover that any kind of extrinsic motivation imposed upon someone, extrinsic motivation meaning something that you sort of do to prompt motivation, so it could be a pay raise, or words of encouragement, things of that nature, is short-lived. Very short-lived and doesn’t last for very long. In fact, even words of encouragement, over time, eventually lose their impact on people because people grow used to them.

And so, if you’re going to use that, if you’re going to use either pay raises or words of encouragement, you better be prepared to continue doling out more and more raises, more and more words of encouragement over time because, eventually, they will lose their impact because that’s just the way that we’re wired as human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Todd Henry
So, right now I’m reading a book called Why Information Grows, which is blowing my mind, but it’s about why information, specifically on earth, why information grows here but it doesn’t grow on other places in the universe. And it all has to do with, I won’t go into the specifics, but it all has to do with the fact that information is encoded much more readily in solids than it is in gases, and our planet is, the conditions are just right for the right kinds of solids to exist to allow us to encode information. So, it’s a really fascinating book. It’s a little technical but a really fascinating book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Todd Henry
The Techo Planner by Hobonichi is my favorite little tool. I use it for journaling, I use it for tracking my dailies. It’s really like the perfect little notebook, a little paper planner to sort of carry around and use to help organize my life and my work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do?

Todd Henry
So, I may have mentioned this in the last episode, but about 17 years ago, I began a habit of every day study in the morning. It’s the first I do in the morning. I get up and I read and I spend some time thinking and writing in the morning, and it has fundamentally transformed my life. If you want to learn how to think systemically, if you want to learn how to see bigger patterns, if you want to advance in your career, if you want to have better relationships, the absolute best thing you can do is make an investment in your intellectual self. And that begins by having a regimen of regular study in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Todd Henry
Yeah. So, it’s funny, the one thing that was like an off-the-cuff article I wrote like five years ago, the title was “Don’t Let Your Rituals Become Ruts,” and that is the most quoted thing on the internet for some reason, I think, because the Get.Momentum app on Chrome uses it as one of their screensavers, but I see it tweeted more than anything else.

But I think the thing probably that I’m seeing resonate most often is our early book called Die Empty, which is really about making sure that you’re not taking your best work to the grave with you. And I’m seeing that growing in momentum around the world. Actually, it’s fun. I’m seeing it, it’s been translated into, I forget how many languages now, but it’s really cool to see people talking about, like, “I’m not going to take my best work to the grave with me. I’m not going to take my best work to the grave with me.” And that’s been kind of a fun thing to see growing as a movement around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Todd Henry
Yeah, if you want to know more about motivation code, just go to MotivationCode.com is the best place to learn all about the assessment and the book itself and the company. And you can find me at ToddHenry.com, and also my podcast, The Accidental Creative, where we list the podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Todd Henry
Yeah. Listen, the work that you do, the things that you produce, that really, really important project you’re working on right now, I mean, no offense, but nobody is probably going to remember that in a hundred years. I’m sorry, but they’re not. I’m sorry, Pete, nobody is going to probably remember your podcast, or my podcast, or any of my books, or any of that stuff in a hundred years. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to say that.

But, listen, the impact that you have on the people around you will resonate for generations to come. You don’t have a responsibility to change the world but you do have a responsibility to change the world around you. So, be the kind of person who makes echoes in the lives of others. And if you make echoes in the lives of others, those echoes are going to resound for generations to come.

And generations has a great quote, it says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees and whose shade they will never sit.” As you create echoes in the lives of other people, generations down the line, people are going to be sitting under a tree that you planted, that you had no idea was even planted, right? So, just be the kind of person and be the kind of leader who makes echoes.

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, this has been awesome. I wish you all the best in your adventures.

Todd Henry
Thanks so much, Pete. And thanks again for having me on the show.

605: How to Stop Firefighting and Start Executing with Chris McChesney

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Chris McChesney says: "Get very comfortable with the currency of results."Chris McChesney discusses how to achieve more with your team by following the four disciplines of execution.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three roadblocks to execution 
  2. The only two things that create engagement 
  3. How to instill accountability in 20 minutes 

About Chris

Chris McChesney is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey and is one of the primary developers of the 4 Disciplines of Execution. For more than a decade, he has led FranklinCovey’s design and development of these principles, as well as the consulting organization that has become the fastest growing area of the company. 

Known for his high-energy and engaging message, Chris has become one of the most requested speakers within the Franklin Covey Organization, regularly delivering keynote speeches and executive presentations to leaders in audiences ranging from the hundreds to several thousand. 

Chris, and his wife Constance, are the proud parents of five daughters and two sons. His love of family is combined with his passion for boating, water sports, coaching, and trying to keep up with his children. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Chris McChesney Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Chris McChesney
Thanks, Peter. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear your story about how you did not get a job at FranklinCovey but you faked an internship. How did this go down?

Chris McChesney
I think desperation is probably the best explanation for that. They were not interviewing. I mean, they would not interview anyone, and I just had an idea. Wow, this is almost 30 years ago. This was Stephen Covey’s company, the guy that wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I was kind of a groupie and I really wanted to work for this organization. And I decided if they wouldn’t interview me, I‘d interview them, so I pretended to work for the newspaper and told them that I was doing an article on up and coming companies in the area. And I submitted the paper to the newspaper, they published it, so they kept me from being a liar, right?

I didn’t get to the man, I didn’t get to Stephen Covey but I got to his VP, and while in there, I said, “I needed an internship,” which that was a stretch. I didn’t really need an internship, there was no internship, and then I just stowed away. So, four months later, The 7 Habits, hits number one in the New York Times bestseller list, they had fired their publicist, and they looked at me, and said, “Hey, that kid is from New York. Let’s have him call Good Morning America.” So, here I am, unpaid something intern. Actually, there’s an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer actually goes to work for a company he doesn’t actually work for, but that was done after I did it. I want first billing on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Chris McChesney
And that’s how I got started.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s so good. So, well, I was going to ask, you know, Stephen Covey, boy, what a legacy, and really, integrity is one of the first words that comes to mind.

Chris McChesney
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to start with…well, what I like is that you’re working for the newspaper kind of on spec.

Chris McChesney
That’s one way to say it. That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to just a complete fabrication. Boy, that’s beautiful. Also, then can you tell me of any stories about Stephen that really stick with you in his memory?

Chris McChesney
Well, it’s interesting that we’re having this experience because one of my jobs early on was to set him up for interviews like yours. And so, just like my guy gave me a list of some of the questions you like to ask people and things like that, he never wanted to see the list of questions, and he really liked to be authentic and sort of shoot from the hip, and much more of a character than people realize. He’s a bit of a clown when he wasn’t on stage, and he would either be super serious or a complete goofball. And sometimes you needed him to be series, and he wouldn’t be serious. It surprises people to hear that because he comes off so serious in his books and his tapes but, yeah, he’s a character.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, can you give me a goofball anecdote?

Chris McChesney
Oh, I can and it’s almost unbelievable, but there’s a thing that he did with his sons. One of his sons felt really ignored by his father, David Covey felt very ignored by Stephen, and Stephen was on a phone call and so David got out, this is bizarre, but he got out peanut butter and jelly and started to spread peanut butter on his dad’s head, and then he put jelly on his dad’s head, then he slapped a piece of bread over it, and left.

And so then, they were two command performances of this, and, in your brain, you couldn’t get, you know, here’s one of the world’s leading thought leaders, having his son make a mess out of his head, and they just thought that was so funny. That was great. So, this family had its own brand of humor. But, yeah, that’s all real, believable or not.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. That’s good. Well, hey, sometimes some humor or peanut butter-jelly head sandwich can aid in execution, and that’s my forced segue, Chris, because that’s your claim to fame and your area of expertise is execution, and your book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. So, could you maybe start by maybe giving us a quick definition? What do we mean by execution?

Chris McChesney
That’s a really good question.

Pete Mockaitis
And then give us the lay of the land, like, how well are organizations and professionals executing today? Like, what are the measures? What’s the state of the union here when it comes to execution?

Chris McChesney
All right, so let’s do this. Because execution is one of those words that could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, right? It could just mean getting everything I got to get done, done, but that’s not what we mean by it. What we mean by it is getting that thing done that’s not going to happen anyways. Most of us have a routine, organizations have an SOP, they have their day job, their existing processes, and it gets stuff done. We get stuff done. And then every once in a while, you’ve got a goal and it’s not going to happen unless it gets special treatment.

And, typically, the nature of these things, Pete, is that they don’t have an inherent in-the-moment urgency associated with them. They’re really important. And if you made me fill out a quiz on the most important thing to me, like it’d be right at the top of the page, but it’s not getting any attention, and weeks are going by and we’re not getting any traction.

Usually, when you say that, people identify with something, and that’s really the execution conundrum right there. What is that thing that is not inherently urgent? Because people are good at working on the urgent, and, “I have to get it done and it’s not happening.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, give us just a few examples of things that tend to fall into this bucket again and again.

Chris McChesney
Yeah. I had one the other day, there was an organization, they needed to get these jobs to find, and they needed to get work aides for their physical therapy group. They had about 50 physical therapy practices. And every year, they would put money in the line item, budget item, for this, and every year it didn’t matter that there was money there, it didn’t happen. And they could see so many things but never at one time, that might be an example, they actually pushed through and got a hundred of these things made.

An organization that wants to focus on customer satisfaction, and they know that’s so critical but there’s 20 things that happen over the course of a day, and everybody’s busy and we’re not getting to that thing, maybe it’s an improvement in quality. The Georgia Department of Human Services, 10 years ago, reduced repeat cases of child abuse by 60% by attacking some things that weren’t unknown, they were known things but they were the type of things that weren’t getting attention. And if you can put energy against certain activities, sometimes it can have shockingly powerful effects.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that really resonates, certainly rings true. And I think you’re right in terms of there are, boy, I tell you, there are systems and there are processes and things that just happen, and then there’s those that it’s like they fall through the cracks, or it’s not a recurring thing, and, thusly, it’s like you don’t get the scale for it maybe.

Chris McChesney
Yeah. And I tell you where it shows up, Pete, is leaders sometimes will have an agenda. And it’s a big deal when you get a leadership position, you get your first management role. It’s a big deal to you, it’s not a big deal to anybody else, right? And you really know where you want to make your mark. And what gets so many leaders so frustrated is there are so many people giving them the thumbs up and they’ll agree with you, and they’ll say, “I love this, boss. It’s key to our future.” And I just get people laughing when I’m saying this, and then nothing happens.

And it’s not that people are being deceitful or duplicitous, they bought everything that you said. They heard it. And then 45 seconds later, six crises hit their desk and they’ve been responsive. And so, for leaders to start to understand, “Geez, what does it take to get deliberate energy against activities that don’t act on people?” And, basically, let me sum it up this way. Executing strategies that require change in human behavior is kind of the whole topic or problem we’ve been in love with for 20 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so let’s dig into how that’s done. So, you’ve got a chapter called “The Real Problem with Execution.” Lay it on us. What’s the real problem?

Chris McChesney
We’ve kind of been talking about it. It is that there’s like one side of our brain that deals with importance, and there’s another side of our brain that determines how we actually spend time and energy, and they’re not talking to each other. In the moment, urgency is king. And if I’m busy all day long, and I’m active, and I just can’t work any harder than I already have, I’ll tell you, here’s how you could feel this.

Think about working on a critical job. Maybe it’s the most important project of the year, and you know it, and you’re like tying yourself to your desk. And the whole time you’re working, you want to get up and do seven different things during that period of time, and you think, “I must be out of my mind. And it can’t be 4:00 o’clock already. Where did that go?” That is the first. There’s a couple of real problems of execution. The first one is that urgency and importance don’t line up.

Number two is complexity. A lot of times execution does not like complexity too. Best friends of execution are simplicity and transparency. And our ability to sort of put so many things down that we want to accomplish. So, not only is it all the stuff that we’re responding to on a day-to-day basis, but then when we do go proactive, we try and bite off more than we can chew, and that is a whole conundrum in and of itself.

And then I’d say the third one is futility. And it’s the frustration that might be a byproduct of the first two. But when people start giving up, that’s when you see burnout kick in. It’s rarely a byproduct of actually the amount of work. It’s the feeling that I’m working and it doesn’t matter. So, urgency, complexity, and futility really do a lot of damage. And there’s ways to get around this but I think it starts with the question that you asked, like, “What’s the problem?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s really good, a really good synopsis of just kind of what makes stuff hard, in general, in terms of if it’s not urgent, it’s not sort of screaming to be at the top of your list, and, thusly, it can just keep getting pushed off and just doesn’t happen. If it’s complex, you’re just sort of like, “Well, I don’t even know how to start,” and it just sort of seems intimidating to approach it. And then, if there’s a sense of futility, likewise, that adds all the more psychological resistance to it.

It’s so funny, I’m thinking about we had a heck of a long hard time executing a shift in this podcast, which was we were mostly replying to incoming pitches. And we’ve been selective such that I thought we’re making great choices. But the consequence of that was the stuff we got wasn’t exactly what our listeners needed, and in the time they needed it. And so, we thought, “We really got a beautiful survey of all the stuff people say they need. Like, we just should be letting this dictate our agenda and our calendar.”

And we get emails just about every day from folks joining the email list, and they share their concerns. But it was hard to make that shift because it was not so urgent, it was sort of like, “Ah, okay. Hey, we say we have episodes two times a week, and so we got to get this calendar going.” And it’s a lot harder to…

Chris McChesney
The calendar was urgent. The needs and the specific requests, you had to go after that stuff. The calendar went after you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it was complex in that it’s like, “Well, geez, how do we reverse-engineer it such that we start with the request and then pursue the guest.” And then it wasn’t quite futile but it was, hey, I mean, someone’s got a book coming out says yes immediately. Someone who’s been like an expert on something for decades and he has all the press they ever needed is not as gung-ho to immediately reply to an invitation of the podcast, although most of the time they still say yes in their own time.

And also, some futility associated with, “Boy, how do we even do this? This is really tricky.” And I guess that’s ultimately how we just sort of got through it was we said, “All right. Well, we’re going to reduce urgency by getting ahead of the game a little bit. We’re going to reduce the complexity by trying to come up with a process, an acronym, or a framework.” And I guess we tried to reduce the futility by just acknowledging, “Hey, we don’t know what we’re doing yet, okay? We’re going to have to iterate a few times, and that’s fine.”

Chris McChesney
I really like what you just said. I want to press pause on what you just said. Sometimes, particularly in the area of new goals that you haven’t achieved before, you have to give yourself a little bit of slack because the real engine for innovation is trial and error. And there are certain aspects of your job where error is not acceptable. And because error is not acceptable in certain parts of your job, it’s sort of programs you think that error is always bad, and you have to give yourself a little bit of leeway around an area that requires innovation, otherwise you will not innovate. I’m convinced of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And so, I think, in a way, that was kind of a turning point because we got comfortable with this, like, “Okay, we’re going to make a process that’s going to be bad. We’re going to try it out and see why it took 12 hours to find some names, and then identify the learnings so that we can accelerate a bit and loop it through again and again and again.” And now I’m feeling pretty darn good about it.

Chris McChesney
Can I give you a podcast on this topic?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m listening.

Chris McChesney
You just, a matter of fact, the last three sentences would be a brochure for this podcast. The guy’s name is Tim Harford, he’s a British economist. And the name of the podcast, if you just Google, “Trial and Error.” Not podcast. Ted Talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris McChesney
TED Talk. Trial and error. Tim Harford. And, really, take 15 minutes and watch this. If you’re in a role that requires innovation and some breakthroughs, I think he struck a beautiful chord, very consistent with what we found in our work, and you just described it quite nicely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Chris McChesney
Unintentionally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, you just described some things nicely in terms of you’ve identified four specific disciplines for execution. Can you give us the overview, and then let’s dig deeper into some of these?

Chris McChesney
Yeah, all right. So, the first one is, let’s do this. I’ll give each one a word. So, the first word is focus, and I’ll come back to this so you’ll get them. I’ll just give a list right now. So, the first one is focus, the second one is leverage, the third one is engagement, and the fourth one is accountability. And you think of these four words as sort of a mechanism for breaking through the urgency trap. Like, you want to fly an airplane, there’s four words, it’s lift, thrust, weight, and drag. Like, you get those concepts down, you can put something in the air and keep it there. In execution, we’re about focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability.

So, the first one, focus, is getting, really, first of all, narrowing your focus between the one thing that this team that I run is going to deliver, and everything that’s day job, everything that operationally has to get done. And I’m going to tell you that your operational reality, arguably, is more important, like that cannot slip. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not going anywhere in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re sort of on a treadmill. It’s like we’re continuing to do the things that we’ve done, and we’ll probably continue to get the results that we’ve got, and if you’re a big company, the results you’ve gotten are great. But, of course, over time, if you don’t innovate, you’ll kind of wither.

Chris McChesney
So, I’ve got a good one for you. So, the number two guy at Marriott, he’s retiring this year, his name is Dave Grissen. Marriott used this methodology for 12 years and they’ve improved their guest sat. every year for 12 years. The champion of this is now the number two guy at Marriott. When he was launching this 12 years ago, he told a group of leaders that were launching this process, he said, it was a two-part statement, he said, “First of all, if you want to keep your jobs at Marriott, just take care of the operation, just take care of the day job. We’ll never fire you because if we let you go, the next person might not take care of the day job. Like, you’ll always have a job here if you just take care of the day job.”

And then he gets this smirk, and he said, “But if you want to get promoted, give me one, give me your result, give me an improvement in arrival experience, give me an improvement in food and beverage quality, give me an improvement in everything in working order or event satisfaction. Call your shot and bring me something.” And it was his way of sort of communicating, I thought it was a great way to set, “Yeah, all right. If I just want to take care of the day job, okay, I’ll always have a job here. But if I’m serious about my career…” and then they backed it up. So, when a hotel manager applied for a general manager position, or vice versa, the first thing they would say is, “All right, tell me about your results. What did you target? How did you do it? Like, I want to know…” I think this is a universal principle for career movement, like, “I got to do those two things. I have to maintain the operation. That is job one. But if that’s all I’m doing, I’m treadmilling it. And then what is the one thing, what is the one result that I can deliver?”

And, by the way, that day job will take up 100% of my energy if I let it. I have to steal energy from that, and we say about 20%, to apply towards a breakthrough. So, figuring out what that is, defining it, giving it a starting line, a finish line, and a deadline, all of those things are part of discipline one and focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, Chris, I love that so much in terms of it’s just a clear framework and it’s just true. It rings true in terms of, yeah, doing your day job, keeping the operations going, will consume you, and it is important, and it needs to be done, and yet, just as you said, you’ve got to have that result. I’m thinking here about I’ve coached a lot of people on their resumes and career strategy development, and that’s kind of how that’s always my interpretation as I’m reviewing resumes for like hiring someone or for helping them to make their resume better.

Chris McChesney
There you go. You’re looking for it.

Pete Mockaitis
If you just show me, it’s like, “Okay. Well, yeah, you know what, I think it’s accountants. Poor guys. They’ve got such great skills and some of them I don’t have. I love my accountant so much. He’s so valuable.” And then when I read some bullets from accountants’ resumes, it’s like, “Hey, did invoicing, or controls, or books, or reporting,” and it’s like, “Yeah, absolutely, that’s got to happen. It’s hard. I wouldn’t be good at it. I’m glad that you’re on top of that.” But to make me go, “Hmm, impressive resume,” I got to see results and improvement on something, like you revised a process, you reduced costs, you improved revenue, you made something that took a long time, now take a little bit of time. I got to see a result and, ideally, there’s a number on it from like a resume judging perspective.

Chris McChesney
Yup, there is a number on it. That’s right. And think about this, so the great management guru, like the guy that kicked all this off was Peter Drucker. Drucker has got this one statement that is money. Drucker says, “The hardest thing to get people to do is think about their jobs in terms of results instead of activities.” And you just described that really well, “I do this, and then I do this, and then I do this, and then I do that.” If that sits on a resume, yeah, that’s fine if I need one of those, but that’s a certain type of job. But if you start thinking in the currency of results, what did I bring?

So, I’ve got right now, I have seven children, my wife and I do. My oldest is married and my third oldest is married, and so I’ve got, right now, I’ve got half a dozen little people in my life that are in their 20s that are looking at careers, and I’ve been just really hitting this note that get very comfortable with the currency of results. Somewhere, your boss, let’s say you’re in front-line management or event middle management, start thinking, and I’m going to steal from Stephen Covey who we were talking about earlier.

Think about what’s outside your job description but within your circle of influence. The opportunity rarely lives inside your job description, but it is something that you could influence. It’s like, what is the one thing that your boss wishes we had fixed? What is the one thing that the organization needs? And can you bring that? Maybe it is within your job description. But thinking in terms of the currency of results when it’s not being asked of you is a mindset shift for most people but it’s incredibly enabling.

And here’s the other thing. No one is going to have a parade for you when you deliver results. It’s funny, you’ll actually be…I think you’ll be discouraged. Like, you’ll get this done, and you’ll get that done, the whole time you’re doing this. If you’re not careful, what you’re thinking is, “Geez, Mary doesn’t do this. Mark doesn’t do this. I’m doing all this extra work. I’m not getting paid.” That’s the other thing. You’ll always feel like you’re adding more value than you’re getting paid, and that’s exactly where you want to be. And you just keep doing these things, and nobody cared about them, like you get a pat on the head, and a week later, they forgot. You keep doing it, and then one day they’re thinking, “Hey, we need somebody. Do you know who’d be great for that?” And, all of a sudden, you’ve changed your brand as you’re a real hunter. You seek and you get results.

And it doesn’t take very long because not everybody is doing it. Like, I promise you. Everybody applies for the position. Everybody. I’ve gotten 14 jobs. I’ve never gotten one of them from an interview. It’s always been, “Hey, Chris, we’re thinking of something.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. That’s focus. All right. So, you’re focusing and then maybe say a little bit more. It’s often outside your job description but within your area of control. It’s about results. And any other little telltale signs, like, “This may be the thing to focus in on”?

Chris McChesney
So, let’s say be careful of going too big. We don’t emphasize this enough in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, and the second version is getting launched this spring, and we really hit this point. Like, I’m in sales so we’ve got to grow revenue. Now I know what the thing is, the thing is the revenue. Well, be careful. Revenue is the title of the book, whatever the macro objective is, think of that like the title of the book, and that’s not where I want you to go. I want you to look at the chapters that make up the book, and I want you to pick the one chapter where you go, “Oh, if we could only do this. This is one product we sell. If we could grow that one product, boy, the margins are better, those people stay with us, they buy our other products.” Like, where are you going to put disproportionate energy? Against which chapter are you going to double down?

And if you could come down to sort of one level of abstraction from the big goal down to the chapter, come down off the title of the book, look at chapters and say, “Oh, yeah. You know what, if we get our first-year salespeople to pay for themselves, we could grow this thing forever.” Like, there’s always that one sort of small target that if we could just get that, wow, we could do X, Y, and Z. like, those are the really good, what we call WIGs, or wildly important goals. They’re not always these macro huge things.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s beautiful. So, it’s like a domino that sets it off, or the key that unlocks a whole lot more.

Chris McChesney
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right. So, we got the focus. What’s next?

Chris McChesney
So, the next one is the leverage one, what we call act on the lead measures. Think weight loss. If the scale is the lag measure or the goal, those two things are synonymous, the wildly important goal, or the lagging measure, the outcome metric is the weight, then if you want to lose weight, there’s two lead measures. Everybody listening knows what they are. It’s diet and exercise.

And you say, “Well, what’s unique about a lead measure from a lag measure?” Well, lead measures have two characteristics. I can influence the lead directly. You can’t directly affect weight loss but I can cut my calorie and I can burn calories daily. That distinction right there, folks, that’s the whole thing. A metric that can be directly affected. And then its other characteristic is predictive. Like, if I do that, I get the other. So, think of how a lever works. Rocks are too heavy to move but, you know what, I can move the lever, and the lever moves the rock. That is the idea.

And you want to prove this point, just ask people to think about someone in their life, and most people have someone, who’s lost 50 pounds. Like, there’s somebody they know, it wasn’t an accident, they deliberately set out to lose 50 pounds. So, everybody thinks of somebody, and then you ask the question, “All right. Was that person who lost 50 pounds, were they aware of a diet program and an exercise program, or were they counting daily?” And you do this in a room of 500 people, there might be one or two people that will say there weren’t counting. Everybody else it’s like it’s got to be like a 98%-99% statistic.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog.

Chris McChesney
Why is that? Because, otherwise, we lie to ourselves. So, finding the diet and exercise, in the goal. Like, it isn’t just diet and exercise, it’s any lead measures. And the most sophisticated processes on the planet, like people that are building fighter planes, and structural engineers, and people like this, can always get into this thinking of, “All right, what’s the lag measure and what are the lead measures? Where in the process of these things that we could attack?” And that’s what lead measures are, figuring out and measuring those things that I can directly influence that will move the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, Chris, as you were saying this because I’ve had the pleasure, misfortune, I don’t know, of gaining and losing 10 pounds about three times now in life. And so, that has been my experience in that when I really am serious, I will use the Lose It! app or whatever. So, for real tracking, “How much am I exercising and how much am I taking in?” and not just falling into frozen pizzas multiple times a week, then it’s happening. And when I’m not, it isn’t. So, that’s my own experience on the loss.

Chris McChesney
Let’s put it in a business example. We got a hardware store. They want a likelihood to recommend number, and they’ve tracked it, and they said, “Look, if people will recommend our hardware store, if they’re likely to recommend, whether they do or not, if they answer that they are, you move that number, you see profits move.” Like, they know this is a really good chapter heading for wildly important goal. So, they’re like, “What are the lead measures?” What they find is, you know, there’s three things. When I go to a hardware store, I got to find what I’m looking for. Will someone talk to me? Number one. Number two, when I get to the aisle where the part is, do they actually have the thing I was looking for? Out of stocks. Number three. Once I got it, how quickly can I get out of the store?

Now, the group that we’re working with, the stores didn’t have to pick all three. They could pick one of the three, they could pick two of three, they have different teams working on any, but they had to have, and this is discipline three, is scoreboard, they had to create a compelling scoreboard out of the game. What’s the lag and what’s the lead? It’s a two-part equation. So, like, we’re going to try and move our likelihood to recommend, and we’ve never been able to move that score but we’re going after what we think are the three things that will have the biggest impact, and we figured out how to measure out of stocks, and we figured out how to measure how quickly we engage, and we know how to measure speed at checkout, and so we’re making the bet. In our store, we’re great at speed at checkout but we are terrible at out of stocks. And we’re going to attack that metric every single week, like somebody would attack running or whatever.

And this is where the trial and error comes in. Let’s see if that does it, and let’s learn from this. But if you can get, there’s an engagement dynamic here too, that when you can get people into the game of, “What will affect what?” It’s like a little riddle they’re trying to solve. And if they’re able to move a metric they’ve never been able to move before, you can get your team very engaged in, “All right, what was our score last week? We’ve been killing on out of stocks three weeks in a row. Do we do it four weeks? What the numbers are coming at?” And you could start to engage people in the work in a way, “Well, it was surprising to us. We weren’t expecting this. It’s not why we set out to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so good. And I think now we’ll talk about the third discipline with the engagement and the scoreboard is a tool for engagement. One of my favorite consulting projects, we saw exactly this. It was a customer service organization, they had six call centers, and we discovered that, “Well, hey, what we want is, like title of the book, lower costs associated with addressing customer needs.” And so, back it up a little bit, we see average handle time in terms of just how long they need to be on the phone with someone.

And then we’ve backed that up, we could see what influenced handle time is the experience of the customer service rep who those who know more, they’ve been around more, are able to quickly and knowledgably address the questions that come up. And then so we backed that up and we see, well, the attrition rate is horrible so that people are leaving fast and the average person is not very experienced. And so then, we backed that up and then we really kind of see, “Well, how are the supervisors treating, encouraging, motivating, supporting, the folks who work for them?” And then we see wild differences in that. So, those are some actions to take to reduce attrition.

Pete Mockaitis
And then the scoreboard is like, “The data was always suspect in terms of the attrition rates.” It’s like, “Well, you know, those were temporary. Those were college summer things,” and so no one every trusted the numbers, or could be held accountable to the numbers because they didn’t believe the numbers. And so, junior consultant here, it’s like, “That’s my job, is I’m making the real attrition numbers,” and then I get all these emails from people being asked to be added to the daily email about the attrition numbers that are the true numbers. And then it’s a game, it’s like they’re saying, “Hey, wow, this call center had their attrition go way down as compared to the previous month. Well, what the heck are you doing?” “You know, we tried this game where we offer this prize when they do such and such, and people are really getting into it.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, we should try that game too.” And it’s a beautiful thing.

Chris McChesney
All right. I got to dissect what you just said.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris McChesney
Because you hit a couple of really important themes right there. First of all, you had to get good data before this thing worked. So, think of any, I tell, athletics, I know people think that sports analogies are tired, and usually they are, but it’s really applicable here. Nobody is going to follow a game if the scoreboard is suspect for any reason. And so, “It’s not a first down. It’s somewhere between nine and 11 yards.” “No, it’s 10 fricking yards. Your nine and 11 inches, you’re going the other way.” And so, good data comes from good definitions.

So, I’m guessing, as you got into the data, you had to decide, “When did it really count as attrition? When didn’t it count as attrition?” You had to get very clear on the definitions that drove the data. And so, once you had a credible scoreboard, the next thing that you were able to show before people, I’m guessing, cared about it, is you had to show correlation. You had to show that when one number moved, another number moved. And so, this isn’t just something for analysts. Every business manager has to start understanding some basic correlations because, otherwise, you’re at the mercy of your business. “What do I put energy against that’s going to give me a return?” You stayed on that until you found.

Once you found it, once you saw a correlation, everybody wanted to see it. Everybody knew, right? Sometimes it takes a little trial and error, but you hit the two things. You had clean data, and you had cause and effect, then correlation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. While we’re reliving these moments, and we talk about correlation, that’s one error I think I met is I thought of correlation as, “Oh, you run the statistics in Excel and you get your R squared and adjusted R values,” but really, no, it’s just sort of like with stock outs, there was other project, it was sort of like for service of technological things. And it’s sort of like “Did the job get done right the first time in satisfaction?” So, you can run a big regression with all your variables and it wouldn’t look that compelling. But then if you look at satisfaction score in which the job was done right the first time on one half of the slide, and versus the job was not done right the first time, it’s like then it looks like it’s night and day, and that’s a way to make a correlation pop in my view.

Chris McChesney
Wow, that’s very well-said. We’ll do these meetings where we’ll get…and we like to get the action very close the frontline so we’ll work with leadership teams that are trying to do lead and lag measures three levels, four levels, above the frontline, and we’re like, “Sorry, let’s just break the goals down, let’s get those targets as close to the frontline as possible, and then we want to see half a dozen different scoreboards on a variety of things that are key bets for making the big number move.”

And then what we’ll do about three months in, four months in, we’ll do a report out. So, we’ll have the big bosses come down and talk to the managers and the teams, these are great sessions, and the teams will teach him what they’ve learned, like, “We tried this lead measure. I know we’ve been saying it for years. Didn’t have any effect. But, look, we just measured it differently and we did this, and now look at the results. Look, we got four weeks in a row, we’re moving the lag measure.”

And these VPs are seeing insights into the business and they get very excited about talking to what these frontline teams, and it’s a huge deal for the frontline teams because they’re getting some spotlight right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

Chris McChesney
Oh, I got a book recommendation for you if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m listening.

Chris McChesney
A lot of people like Patrick Lencioni.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, we had him on the show. He’s great.

Chris McChesney
Okay, great. Yeah, he is great. Maybe his least-read book is my favorite, and it’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. He likes it too. He’s re-releasing it. He thinks the reason it doesn’t do so well because nobody wants to be carrying that title of a book around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Get it on Kindle and hide it.

Chris McChesney
So, now he’s going to call it The Secret of Engagement, or something like that. But our 20 years on execution and his work really walked parallel paths. And the three signs of a miserable job are anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds miserable to me.

Chris McChesney
It sounds miserable. Anonymity, “Nobody cares what I’m doing.” Irrelevance, “It doesn’t matter.” And immeasurement, “I don’t know if I’m winning or losing.” And so, people don’t want oppressive data that doesn’t really tell the whole picture, and they’ll resist that stuff. But really helping, when they can actually influence creating a, and we use this words, high-stakes winnable game, you can get a great deal of engagement right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, let’s talk, finally, the fourth discipline here, creating a cadence of accountability. How do we do it?

Chris McChesney
So, this is one where it’s almost like if you think about disciplines one, two, and three as setting up the game. One is the target, two is kind of the how, three is sort of encapsulating it in a scoreboard, four is how we play the game. And now we’re going to go full circle back to the urgency thing. You can’t beat the urgency thing. You have to sort of trick your own brain. The way this works is everybody on the team makes a commitment during this little meeting, so every week at the same time, 20-minute meeting, Tuesdays at 9:00, it’s Tuesdays at 9:00, no matter what, you have to be kind of a freak about it, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris McChesney
We’ve got this meeting around this scoreboard, call them WIG sessions. And everybody in that meeting reports on the thing they committed to do last week that would have an impact on the scoreboard. So, I take one commitment. Like, we have a lead measure of interviewing 80% of our first-time accounts. But I could tell now that the script doesn’t look really good, so my commitment for the week is we’re going to rewrite that script, or, “The rent of Solaire office is really struggling. I’m going to meet with Marty, and we’re going to go over such.” Something I’m going to do every single week. In that meeting, everybody has to say, “Here’s what I said I was going to do last week. Here’s the impact it had on the scoreboard. And here’s my commitment for next week,” and that’s all they say.

Next person, “Here’s what I did. Here’s what my scoreboard looks like. Here’s what I’m going to do next week.” Like, brainstorming, problem-solving, something’s come up, out of this meeting. This thing, you are in and out. If you can do it in 20 minutes, great. And there’s this sort of two things about this. One, the commitments can’t come from the boss. You pull this, you don’t push it. So, the boss sometimes sits there chewing their tongues out because they know what they want to have done but, no, no, you got to ask everybody, “Give me that. What is the one thing, Pete, you’re going to do this week that’s kind of the biggest impact on one of those lead measures?” It’s like just-in-time strategic planning.

And then you know next week, we have people say all the time, “You know what, it was Thursday night and I had that week session Friday morning, and I was up till 2:00 o’clock in the morning. Like, I was not…” People don’t want to disappoint their bosses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Chris McChesney
They won’t disappoint their peers. They don’t like to disappoint their bosses. They could get over that. But we found that when it comes to peer accountability, they take it really seriously and you get really good commitments and you get energy. And then four, five, six weeks of non-urgent activity because these commitments would never make anybody’s to-do list but they’re the most important thing you could do to drive the lead measures. And so, that’s really the secret of the whole thing, is we just start to mind-harvest, pick your metaphor, energy against that scoreboard every single week until the team realizes, “We’re doing something nobody’s been able to do before, and it’s moving,” then we get the pop in engagement. That’s our story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s exciting and, certainly, I see what you mean about tricking your brain with the urgency, is it’s now urgent in that you don’t want to look like a fool, you don’t want to let people down, and the clock is ticking that you’re going to have to say something on Friday, so, hopefully, it’s going to be a good something.

Chris McChesney
And the day job has all that stuff built in, that’s why the day job has its own accountability system called your neck. Like, you get a phone call, like people get mad at you, you don’t want that phone call, so we do that, right? But the goals, the goals need a mechanism to create the same kind of urgency that the day job has. And if you could do it in a way where people feel like they’re part of something, and this is what we found.

So, I gave you the quote on Lencioni’s book “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.” I’ll give you another one. It’s an HBR, Harvard Business Review, article, May 2011, there’s also a book by the same name called The Power of Small Wins, and it goes back to a research that was done in the ‘60s by a guy named Frederick Herzberg. And Herzberg said, those of you that have had MBA classes recently, his name comes up. He came up with this theory, and he said, “Look, the stuff that people quit over – pay, best friend at work, job conditions, benefits – does not engage them.”

I’m going to say that again, “The stuff people quit over does not engage them.” Don’t quit over pay, whether they have a best friend at work, whether they like…they’ll over quit all that stuff. There’s only two things that engage people, really create engagement, and it’s “Am I winning? Am I progressing? Is it working? Is there some progress?” and “Does it matter? Is it a winnable high-stakes game?” And so, what we tell people is, “Look, don’t get overwhelmed by this. If you’re a leader, your team doesn’t have to feel that way about everything. The day job, 80% won’t feel that way most of the time. It’s okay. But if you can create a high-stakes winnable game around that 20%, that one thing, it affects the way they feel about everything else.” And I would even say in raising teenagers, it’s the same thing. Find one thing in that kid’s life that they’re wining at and they feel good at, it has an impact on everything else.

So, I’ll tell you, after 20 years, that’s what we’ve learned. If you can create a high-stakes winnable game for people, it has a profound effect on morale and engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it. And I think it’s true all of life in terms of, in my own experience, it’s like, “I got to feel like I’m winning something.”

Chris McChesney
Yeah, right. Give me something, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I might feel like a lame dad or a lame husband, but if I’m winning at work, it’s like, “Okay, life has some color,” or vice versa, I might feel like, “Oh, man, COVID hits, my downloads are down. You know what, man, but I’m having a blast with my kids.” Like, you got to be winning at something.

Chris McChesney
Right. Right. Right. And so, that’s the question to leaders, right? Do the people who work for you feel like there’s some part of what you’re doing that feels like a high-stakes winnable game? And if they do, they won’t forget it. It’s a much bigger deal to people than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Chris, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Chris McChesney
That’s it. That’s our story.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, can you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris McChesney
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose, considered by yourself to be a worthy one, instead of being a feverish little clot of grievances and ailments, complaining the world will not dedicate itself to making you happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard that. I forgot who said it.

Chris McChesney
It’s on the tip of my tongue. That was the one that I was looking for.

Pete Mockaitis
It was nice. It was well-done. The clot grievances is always like, “Oh, man.”

Chris McChesney
Yeah, be a force of nature, right? Attack something. Bring something down.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chris McChesney
You know what I’m reading right now? I’m reading the, the biography of Hamilton that Lin-Manuel Miranda based the Broadway play on. And my wife and I are just crazy for the play. And the biography is stunning, and it’s just a really inspiring story of someone who had no business having an impact on the world that he had. Chernow is the guy’s last name, the Hamilton biography. It’s fantastic.

Hey, on this topic, more to this topic, although I tell you, the book I read before that was Robert Greene on Mastery. And I actually had all my kids, we did at dinner, and you could only come to dinner if you had read at least the first chapter of Mastery. And it’s really an interesting perspective on the whole career conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Chris McChesney
Waterskiing. I’ve got to do a lot of it because I haven’t been on the road, so this is my summer of slalom waterskiing. That’s my addiction.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks, they quote it back to you and they highlight it in your book, etc.?

Chris McChesney
There will always be more good ideas than there’s capacity to execute them.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that very comforting because…

Chris McChesney
Good, because you don’t have to bring them all down. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And, in a way, it really is a blessing. It’s like it’s such abundance. We can sort of enjoy that as opposed to be stressed out by it.

Chris McChesney
Thank you. Right. Because it kind of shames us in one moment. But, you’re right, it’s just great to realize. Because there is this onus sometimes when we think, “Oh, that. Oh, I didn’t do, and we didn’t follow up on that.” Like, yeah, trust me, you and everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s so funny, sometimes when I have lots of opportunities, and I think even in business, it’s like I find that sometimes I get more stressed, and it’s like I’m enjoying my work less, it’s like, “What’s this about? Like, this is good. This is good.” So, yeah, thank you. It puts it right in the frame, right back where it needs to be. And how about if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris McChesney
All right. So, you go on Amazon and look up The 4 Disciplines of Execution, which is our book that has done way better than we ever thought it would with a title like that, with the words discipline and execution. If you don’t have high hopes, would you launch that book? It continues to be a bestseller to our delight and amazement.

And then if you go to, all one word, ChrisMcChesney4dx.com that will take you to my website and kind of the work that we do. Or you can go to the FranklinCovey website, that works as well, and you can find me there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Chris McChesney
I’ll just go back to the one I said a minute ago. Find something outside your job description, within your circle of influence, and get your team treating it like a high-stakes winnable game. If you can do that, you’re not a manager. You’re a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck.

Chris McChesney
Right back at you.

562: How to Get More Done by Working Less with Alex Pang

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Alex Pang says: "It is possible to rethink and redesign everything about how we work."

Alex Pang discusses how to significantly boost your productivity while working fewer hours.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How working fewer hours greatly increases productivity
  2. Small productivity hacks that save a massive amount of time
  3. When you should and shouldn’t multitask

About Alex:

Alex Pang is the founder of Strategy and Rest, a consultancy devoted to helping companies and individuals harness the power of rest to shorten workdays, while staying focused and productive. He is the author of 4 books and have been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the New Yorker.

Pang is also an international speaker and has led workshops across the globe on the future of work and how deliberate rest makes creative careers more productive and sustainable. He received his B.A. and Ph.D in History of Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Pang Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Oh, thanks very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about working less and shorter and resting effectively, and so I’ll mention right up front that I found it more difficult to rest when there’s all this chaotic pandemic news around me. How are you finding rest during this time?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
I think it’s a challenge for everybody. I do an awful lot of work from home and work remotely anyway, so for me the biggest disruption is not being able to travel, but someone who mainly writes books for a living, kind of shelters in place anyway. So, I am fortunate to be less disrupted than many people I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well and that’s working out. I want to hear about your latest book Shorter. You’ve written a few. So, tell me, what made you think that the world needed you to craft this one?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, Shorter is essentially a sequel to my previous book Rest which was about the hidden role of rest in the lives of really creative and prolific people. And when I was promoting that book, I got a lot of questions along the lines of, “Okay, this all sounds great in theory, but if you’re a single mom or a working professional, how do you make the case to your boss or your clients that you should rest more?”

And so, I started looking for organizations that had figured out how to do this, and fairly quickly stumbled on these companies that had moved to 4-day workweeks or 6-hour days that not only were recognizing the importance of rest for creative work, for doing good work, but also were changing how they worked, redesigning their work days in order to make it available to everybody without cutting salaries and without hurting their productivity or their profitability.

And so, the fact that I was seeing these companies all over the world in a variety of industries, often in industries where overwork is the norm, like software, advertising, call centers, restaurants, made me think these are actually doing something really significant that was worth sharing with the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. I’ll tell you I was a fan of all the line graphs in your book. I’m a sucker for real numbers. So, could you share with us a couple of the most striking pieces of research, whether it’s a case study or two, or more of a global kind of survey, that really makes a compelling case that, in fact, if you’re working a shorter amount of time, you can see the same or better results?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Well, in organizations that have done this, what I am seeing is that if they are thoughtful about how they redesign their work days, if they explain it well to clients, if they use technology well, they’re able, actually, to not just maintain the same levels of productivity or profitability, but often increase them. So, for example, there’s a call center in Glasgow, Scotland, and Glasgow turns out to be like the call center of Europe, there are lots of these companies up there called Pursuit Marketing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the Scottish accents or…

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Exactly, yeah. Oh, yeah. And a couple of years ago, they made the move to a 4-day workweek, and they found that, after they did this, their productivity went up something like 40%, dropped down a little bit, and then settled down at about 30% higher than normal. So, even though they were working 4-day weeks, they were doing more business, generating more revenue for their clients than they had been when they were working 5-day weeks.

And they, not surprisingly, were also more profitable as a result, and they saw absenteeism and turnover dropped really substantially. This is an industry where people do an awful lot of job-hopping, you’re constantly attracted to the next job by a new set of potential performance bonuses and other incentives, so people generally move quite a bit. But after they moved to a 4-day week, attrition dropped to single-digit percentages which is absolutely unheard of.

Pete Mockaitis
Annually.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, annually.

Pete Mockaitis
In call centers that is striking.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Which is unheard of in the industry. So, that’s one. And this is also an industry where you measure absolutely everything, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Average Handle Time, First-Call Resolution, da, da, da.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Precisely. And so, they had really good numbers that illustrated that even in an industry where having constant contact with prospective customers, being on the phone a lot, where those kinds of things really matter, where you would not think necessarily that shortening working hours could deliver results, even in those kinds of industries, this turns out to pay off.

And this is a story that I saw over and over again, right? Places that whether it is very topline numbers, like just revenues and profitability, or whether it is the results of weekly surveys either internally with employees or externally with clients, or in terms of things like industry prizes and awards given. When done well, basically, all of those numbers, over time, go up into the right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s striking. And so, I think you said if we started with a 40% productivity boost, then we hit a 30%. Now, let’s clarify a couple of these. I guess if you’re reducing hours by 20%, five to four days, and you’re getting a productivity boost of 30%, you’re actually producing more in four days than you are in five.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you see folks take like five 8-hour days and turn it into four 10-hour days, or is it just, no, four 8-hour days?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Sure. There certainly are companies that convert to four 10-hour days including some fairly big ones now offer that option, especially in Japan. So, 7-Eleven does this and a number of other large companies. But what I was particularly interested in were companies that were shortening the total number of hours that people were working.

Generally, this means going from 40 hours to 32 or 30. So, doing four 8-hour days or five 6-hours. In the restaurant industry, because people are often working 12- or 13-hour days, to go to a 4-day week means you’re going to 48 hours, but still, even there, you’re going from like 60 or 70 hours down to something substantially lower.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, really, what I was interested in for this book was absolute change in working hours as opposed to just taking 40 hours and moving them around differently on the calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
And this is intriguing. Well, I’ve got my own theories but I want to hear yours, you’re the expert. What’s your hot take there on the mechanisms by which less time yields greater results? Is it they’re more rejuvenated so they have more creative ideas to solve the customer caller’s problem? Is it fewer silly mistakes that cause…? Like, what are the sources of productivity gains from working less?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Very broadly speaking, having more time for recovery means that you have more energy on the job, and that matters whether you’re in a creative industry, or you’re a maître d’, or you’re working in a call center. The second thing is that, in knowledge work, in office work, there are estimates that through multitasking, poorly-run meetings, interruptions, we lose an average of about two hours a day of productive time.

And so, if you can eliminate that stuff and get that time back, you go a long way to being able to do five days’ worth of work in four days. And what the companies that I’ve seen do, essentially, is figure out ways to get those two hours back. So, the second part, the redesigning your work day to use your time more effectively, gives you the fundamental ability to fit five days’ worth of work into four. And then, I think, having the extra time to cultivate other hobbies, to rest and relax, to deal with life admin, that gives you an additional boost that accounts for that increase in productivity or creativity on top of the 20% that you need to make up for working fewer hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, I’d love to dig into some of the how-to here even for individuals or teams. Like, I’m running all these, we’ll have the ability to persuade the top decision-maker at the organization that this is what we want to do. But I’m sure there are some leeway to be done here and there, particularly when more people are working from home right now. So, how do we go make it happen?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, the first thing that almost everybody does is dramatically shorten meetings, eliminate the standing Monday morning hour-long meeting, take the traditional meetings and make them half as long or less. Our calendar programs kind of default to running meetings for an hour which means that people tend to drift in, things start a little bit late, you check your email, you chat a little bit, then you do some business, and then maybe you pad out the time at the end by talking about what you did on the weekend, etc. By making meetings much sharper, more pointed, often smaller, having agendas and decisions that need to be made, and then focusing on those and then getting out of there, you can save an organization an amazing amount of time.

The next thing is getting technology distractions under control. So, implementing norms where you have email checks at particular times a day, you’re more thoughtful about how you use tools like Slack and other messaging programs, can go a long way to eliminating the kind of everyday state of what Microsoft executive, Linda Stone, called continuous partial attention, that state where you’re kind of focused on one thing but you’ve also got an eye on your inbox and you kind of toggle between different activities or different things that capture your attention. That feels like a very productive way to work but every study indicates that, actually, it’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
I might just sort of linger there for a moment. I think that’s critical. It feels productive so we do it and it feels good to do it but, in fact, if you actually took a look at your output, your outcomes generated, it’s lower. And I think that’s fascinating stuff. Do you have some insight into, like, the biochemistry? I’ve heard that we get a little bit of a dopamine hit in terms of, “Hey, there was an email, and now it’s gone. That’s done. I’ve done something. It might be tiny but it’s done. Ooh, and I did a lot of tiny things, therefore, I did a lot, or I feel I did a lot,” but, really, it’s like, “Hey, those 20 inconsequential emails versus that one meaty piece of thought that will generate thousands of dollars, they’re not at all equal in terms of their value.”

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
No, they’re not. Definitely not. And it is certainly the case that, as creatures who often seek novelty, and especially those of us who are in creative industries, tend to…we are a little more likely to like new stuff, to like stimulation, than sometimes people who are happy in other kinds of businesses. We have something of a bias toward this. But it’s also the case that there’s a real difference between the kind, in productive terms, between the kind of sort of multitasking where you’re juggling several different things that all aim at the same endpoint.

So, when you’re giving a talk, for example, you’re managing your slides, you’ve got the points you’re trying to make, you’re reading the room, you’re interacting with people, there’s actually an awful lot of different cognitive strains that are happening at once. But because all of them go to making a good performance, helping an audience understand some new thing, helping them solve a problem, it doesn’t feel like the kind of cognitive overload that trying to simultaneously be on a conference call and look at a spreadsheet about an unrelated thing incurs.

The problem is that, through a combination of organizational habit, through the fact that for most of human history, we haven’t had a lot of opportunity to do that second sort of multitasking, to look at multiple screens at once, we’re not yet very well-tuned to recognizing the difference between that really  productive, engaging kind of multitasking that involves multiple channels that all build to the same goal, and this other kind that feels productive, but which is actually a lot harder for us to manage and gives us the feeling of engagement and the feeling of productivity without very much productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is just a heck of a distinction because I’m thinking about times in which I’ve sort of been in charge of an event, like I’m pulled in very many directions kind of all at once, like, “Oh, the food is here, the volunteers are there, and the attendees are there, and, ooh, here’s an unexpected issue.” And so, for me, it’s when I’m properly prepared, it’s exhilarating as opposed to anxiety-provoking. But it’s all geared toward making a great event, great experience for the people who are present, and that works.

Versus, it might give a similar sensation if I’m doing five completely different things but rapidly switching between them, but they don’t, actually, synergistically helping each other. It’s just sort of like, “Oh, I’m cleaning my Mac files in one place, and my emails in another place, and my voicemails in another place, and maybe I’m switching between all three because that can happen, but they’re not actually helping each other at all. I’m not learning one from one source. So, that’s a really powerful distinction, I think. Thank you.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
And, actually, companies that move to 4-day weeks are pretty explicit about recognizing that distinction. And one of the most important ways in which they express it is by redesigning their work day so that they carve and set aside times for what Cal Newport calls deep work, right? It’s a couple hours of the day, usually in the late morning, when you can be…you have permission to be a little antisocial, to not answer the phone, you’re expected not to ask people those one quick question that turns into a 10-minute conversation, but rather everyone has permission to focus on their most important or most challenging, tasks.

And so, by creating that time, and creating it for everybody, you make it easier for people to get into that state of concentration, that flow state, and to get substantial stuff done. So, I think that’s another really important thing that I see these companies doing. And then the fourth and final one is using technology to augment people’s abilities, right? You, essentially…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m a cyborg, if you will.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, you automate kind of ordinary stuff, or of less significant, less value-added tasks, but you use technology to augment people’s ability to do really significant creative tasks.

Pete Mockaitis
We have an example of that. So, I can think of all sorts of ways to automate. We had Wade Foster from Zapier on the show earlier, which is cool. I’m a big fan of outsourcing whether it’s through a personal assistant service or to some folks in developing countries where there are some…the dollar can go farther and provide a good living wage with fewer total dollars. But tell me about using technology to do the big hard stuff.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Sure. And there are plenty of these companies who do have relationships with virtual assistants in the Philippines or Malaysia or such, but a good example is an accounting company called Farnell Clarke based in the UK. Farnell Clarke does cloud-based accounting. An awful lot of the accounting industry is still working on pen and paper or on personal computers using software loaded up onto people’s machines.

What Farnell Clarke’s specialty for years had been using cloud-based services like, I think Xero is one of them, there are a couple others that own most of this market, and moving clients onto those systems to make basic things like quarterly reporting, tax filling, that sort of stuff easier. What they have also realized once they moved to a 4-day week was that automating all that stuff freed up a whole bunch of time for the accountants that they could now spend on stuff like financial consulting or providing financial services, keeping in touch with clients often through Skype, and Zoom, and other tools, with which we have all become intimately familiar in the last few weeks.

And between those two things and then also becoming familiar with other kinds of financial planning tools or research tools, making it possible for the company to go from just mainly doing tax preparation kinds of stuff, ordinary bookkeeping, to more labor-intensive or more creatively-intensive kinds of financial advisory work. And then there are other versions of this that you see with, let’s say, restaurants or garages where people are using fairly ordinary tools, sometimes in far more labor-intensive kinds of ways. But I think that the Farnell Clarke example is a nice illustration of how cloud-based tools can be used in this manner.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool to see sort of like the virtuous cycle effect there in terms of, “Hey, now that we’ve freed up some time, we could put some time into something that yields even more cool benefits.” So, that’s really cool. I’m curious, when folks are saying, “Alex, this is awesome. Yes, we’re going to go forth and do this,” what are some common mistakes or hiccups that folks run into that you can give a watch-out, a heads up, to?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Right. I think that the first thing is that I’ve never encountered a company that said, “We spent too much time planning this. We spent too much time thinking about what could go wrong,” or thinking through contingencies, doing scenarios. I think that the more you’re able to plan in advance the better, partly because you do actually come up with problems that you might not foresee, but also because giving everybody an opportunity to think this through is really important in building confidence that they can actually make it work.

I think another thing that has killed off experiments in a couple places was letting everybody choose their own day versus deciding, “Everybody is going to take these days off. So, the office is going to be closed on Fridays,” or, “Half the workforce is on from Monday to Thursday, the other half is Tuesday to Friday if the office needs to stay open five days a week.”

So, I think that recognizing that you have to design with your own culture in mind, and you want to make sure that you don’t disrupt that. And then, finally the other thing is that it’s really important to make the transition something that the employees themselves drive, right?

Every company has a leader at the top who, for various reasons, decides, “This is an experiment worth trying and a risk worth taking.” But the actual implementation is done by employees themselves. And they have to be able to conduct, to experiment with different ways of working, to try things out, to prototype, to rapidly iterate, and to also be sure that if this works out, that they’re going to keep the kind of benefits of the time saved by learning how to be more productive and how to use technology better.

The only other places where this experiment falls apart is where there’s a sense that, “We’re going to do all this stuff but, ultimately, and the company is going to get 20% more work out of us, but we’re going to go back to a traditional schedule.” So, I think that being very clear that everybody is going to benefit from these changes, is a really important thing to establish and to honor from the outset.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, tell me, Alex, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Yeah, I think that the other critical thing is that everybody worries about how clients will react. And I was amazed to hear exactly one story of a prospective client who had objected to a company moving to a 4-day week. Clients, it turns out, are incredibly supportive of this partly because they have the same kinds of problems that companies moving into 4-day weeks do with work-life balance, with burnout, with recruitment and retention and sustainability.

So, I think that involving clients early on, making clear to them that this is what you’re trying to do, that you’re still available under emergencies, all of that is important, but you’ll also find kind of sometimes contrary to your initial expectations or worries that clients can be some of your biggest allies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
I often remember a line from Bertrand Russell from his essay about the uses of idleness, where he talks about how we could, by now, have a 4-hour work day. And he says that modern technology offers the prospect of convenience and ease for all, or a future that offers overwork for a few and idleness for many. And it feels to me like that he was really onto something there, that in a sense we have, for various reasons, chosen the second future, but it’s not too late to choose the first one.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Probably the book that has affected or changed my life more than any other in the last ten years has been Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, which is the classic study of flow states, what they are, why they’re important, and why they not only make us happy but are essential for living a good life. And I think that for those of us who really enjoy our work, who love nothing more than getting lost in an interesting problem, Csikszentmihalyi offers a great key for understanding what it is that is so rewarding about really interesting problems, about really good work, and a foundation for thinking about how we can build on that to make our lives better, not just to be more productive, not just to be more successful, but to become better people, and to have better, more sustainable lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. And I like that you pronounced his name perfectly.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Hey.

Pete Mockaitis
I had to look that up and practice it a few times because I name-drop his as well. It’s an excellent book. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Scrivener. It’s a kind of supercharged word processor that also has a bunch of organizational kind of outlining tools. I’ve written three books using Scrivener, and without it, I probably would’ve written like one and a half. It is for writers, what something like Lightroom is for photographers. It’s not simple and it’s got, definitely, a learning curve. But once you figure it out, you can’t live without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
So, if you want to learn more, my company website is www.Strategy.rest. Rest is now a top-level domain, very happily for me. And then on Instagram, on Twitter, and pretty much everything else, I am @askpang. So, those are the best places to find me. And, of course, the books are available in fine bookstores, virtual and, one day, one hopes again, physical everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
It is possible to rethink and redesign everything about how we work. And that even starting with small things, like changing how you run meetings, can have very big impacts over the long run. It can start teaching you how to improve things that you’ve kind of put up with for years, that everyone complains about but no one has figured out how to change. These things actually turn out to be changeable. They turn out to be fixable. And when we take a kind of more experimental, more skeptical approach to how we work, and we ask the question, “Why is it this way? Can it be different? And what can we do to figure out how to improve it?” it turns out you can do dramatic things that pay off both for your company and for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Alex, thank you. This has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways that you’re working shorter.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Oh, thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

561: The Ultimate Guide to Working Remotely with Lisette Sutherland

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Lisette Sutherland says: "When you're remote, you cannot be sloppy. You need these systems in place."

Lisette Sutherland shares expert tips and tricks for working from home masterfully.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The remote worker hierarchy of needs
  2. Smarter alternatives to online meetings
  3. Three tips for managing distractions while working remotely

About Lisette:

Lisette Sutherland is the director of Collaboration Superpowers, a company that helps people work together from anywhere through online and in-person workshops. She also produces a weekly podcast featuring interviews with remote working experts highlighting the challenges and successes of working with virtual teams. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Lisette Sutherland Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lisette, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Lisette Sutherland
Thanks for having me. I’m really honored to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’re honored to have you. Remote work is a hot topic right about now, and you are quite the authority. I’ve been impressed at checking out all of your stuff, and you’ve got some cool stories about just what folks can achieve with remote work. And I’d love it if you could maybe open us up by sharing the tale about the hyperloop pod contest.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, I love that story. Yeah, it was random. My husband actually said, “You’ve got to check out what these guys are doing.” So, I invited them on the podcast, and it turns out that SpaceX started a competition for who could build a hyperloop or a hyper pod for the hyperloop, which is a superfast transportation system that can take a commute of 7 hours and squeeze it into 30 minutes. I mean, you’re basically getting shot through a gravity tube.

And I wouldn’t want to be the beta tester, right? That would be not the funnest. But, anyway, so it’s a superfast transportation system, and this one guy, Tom, put out on Reddit that he wanted to join the competition and asked if there was anybody else that would like to join him. And one year later, with a team of 400 remote volunteers from all over the world, they actually came in finalist in the competition, and they’re still doing stuff on it to this day. I mean, not the same people, of course, but the project continues, and they’re still working on the hyper pod.

So, it just showed to me that when people want to, at great distances and projects of great complexity, that we can do great things together if we just get the right people together, which is actually the origin of why I find remote work so exciting to begin with. It’s sort of this idea of like think of the things we could solve. I mean, with the current coronavirus, we’re right in the middle of it right now, with that, we’re going to need global solutions, global problem-solving, everybody working together on that, I think. So, for me, that’s what makes it so exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very cool. And so, yeah, 400 people just kind of random, like, “Yeah, I find this interesting. Let’s get after it.” And to be a finalist amongst, I imagine, I don’t know the economics of this whole project or contest, but I imagine, again, some pros who like this is their company and this is their business, and transportation is their thing, and they want to a piece of the action.

Lisette Sutherland
For sure. Like, universities have been competing, and, yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. That is cool. So, well, boy, you’ve been studying remote work for quite a long time, and were remote working before many of us knew that you could.

Lisette Sutherland
Before it was cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, well, maybe you could open us up by sharing, have there been a couple of sort of fascinating or surprising discoveries you’ve made that would be useful for us to know?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, for one, most people when they think of remote working, you get this image of somebody laying on the beach, right? You’re going to see it, like a beach with a laptop and an umbrella drink or with an umbrella over you. And I think that a lot of people are discovering that that is not what remote working is all about. And if anybody has ever tried working from the beach, you would know that that is a ridiculous idea because sun on the laptop, and sand on the laptop, I mean, it’s complete…it’s hot, like the laptop is hot on your lap, so it is totally not the right atmosphere for working, like doing any real serious work. So, I always laugh at those stock photos.

But what has been surprising for me is how reluctant people are to try new things. I mean, it goes for me too. I get stuck in my own rut so I’m not on a high horse here, that’s for sure. But how reluctant we all are to try new things, and how, you know, I’ve been telling people for years and years, not that everyone listens to me, but I’ve been saying for years and years, “Regardless of whether you’re allow people to go remote, you should have the processes in place in order to support that in case something happens.”

And in the past, that “in case,” so that something would’ve been sick kids at home, or transportation strike, or bad weather, or the plumber that comes between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., it never occurred  to me that it would be like a global pandemic virus, of course, so it was like an extreme situation. But it does surprise me now how much people are struggling with some of the basic things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a good opening. So, what are some of the basic things that we just got to get handled?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I would say the first thing is infrastructure. So, many people are not used to using video in the video conferencing, although that is changing quickly. And I always tell people, like, that is really important if you’re on a team where camaraderie and trust and team building is really important. There are some teams out there where that’s not super important, and so, in that case, video may not be useful. But for the majority of teams, if you’re not feeling connected, it’s usually because you can’t see each

So, there’s infrastructure, so video, a decent headset, it doesn’t have to be the beautiful QC35 Bose . That was a gift from my rich sister. So, thank you, sis. But a reasonable headset. And then, I would say, one thing that I’m telling people right now is, given that we’ve been at home for like a week or two now for most people that have been trying this, or maybe three, and I would say it’s time to get comfortable knowing that this is going to be happening for the next four to 12 weeks. We don’t know.

So, there’s a lot of makeshift offices right now. And I would say, actually, given that it’s going to be this long, invest in a decent chair, or a sit-stand desk, or whatever it is that you need in order to be productive. Maybe it’s an extra monitor. But I think that most people don’t have the basic infrastructure in place to be able to do this well. And, fair enough, they’ve never had to do it before. It’s all been provided for at the office in most

And then the other thing that I really would highlight is that we need to learn how to design and deliver great online meetings. And the thing that I’m noticing right now is that people are in online video calls all day long. Like, we’ve gone remote and, all of a sudden, we’re just like on the phone all day. And my suggestion to people is, it’s not healthy, number one. So, one, we need to shorten our meetings and take more physical breaks in between meetings, like this back-to-back video meeting thing is not healthy. And the other is we need to start to go more asynchronous with our communications. It can’t just be all online together. There’s got to be more that we can pull out

So, I would say for people that are just starting out, it’s time to think about infrastructure, and then how to design these meetings because you can’t do back-to-back. I mean, you can but it’s not great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we talk about this, you named these infrastructure things that my mind is like firing off tools left and right. So, maybe we’ll just go buck-wild for a minute or two because this is a rabbit hole you could just sort of, “Oh, here are 60 apps that I love.”

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But while we’re on the topic, let’s hit a couple. For chairs, I tell you what, I think, I’ve mentioned it before, but the Autonomous ErgoChair II from Autonomous.ai, and we’ll put these in the show notes. I’ve been impressed at how many things you can adjust at a price that’s lower than Herman Miller at a comfort that’s approaching that. So, in terms of value and performance I think that’s pretty cool.

For headsets, I love the Sennheiser SC60s for audio quality. And for sit-stand desk, there’s a lot of good ones. I got the UPLIFT Desk. And I think infrastructure, you also talked about just internet speed. Do you have any figures there, like, “These many megabits per second is probably okay and this much is not”? Because I think a lot of people say, “Oh, sorry. Oh, oh, sorry. I’m kind of cutting out. Oop, oop.” And I think they don’t actually know how much is enough. So, can you lay that down for us?

Lisette Sutherland
At a very minimum, if you’re going to do video conferencing, at a minimum, you’re going to want at least 10-20 Megabits per second. At a

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Upstream and downstream?

Lisette Sutherland
I don’t actually remember which one is which, but I think it’s upstream. Yeah, at home I have 200 Megabits per second, it’s like superfast and it does everything. But, yeah, you want at least 10-20 Megabits per second, if not faster. But it is the foundational layer of the remote worker’s hierarchy of needs. Like, I’m sure everybody has seen the cartoon with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and like Wi-Fi is the bottom layer. But with remote working, that is so true because you need a reasonable amount of bandwidth in order to run some of these tools that make remote working a joy

So, like video conferencing or virtual offices, if you want to go way far out, you can start getting into virtual reality or things like that. But bandwidth is going…that’s not where you want to save your money. You want to invest in as fast as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is Speedtest.net where you like to go to double-check your speeds?

Lisette Sutherland
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, I did all the tool-dropping. Sorry to steal the fun. Lisette, please, are there some of your faves that you want to mention while we’re going for it here?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, so there’s pros and cons to all tools, and I would say I’m a total tool junkie. So, speaking of rabbit holes, I could go down this one forever. However, it’s not about the tool. It’s about the behavior that the tool enables. That’s what we’re going for. So, when you’re thinking about what the tool that you want to use, you have to think about, “Okay, what are we trying to accomplish? What is our objective here?” But I do have some

I mean, Zoom is my favorite video conferencing tool. I know it has security flaws.

However, the features that Zoom has that I think are just exceptional, and nobody else has them as good as Zoom has them, is breakout room functionality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisette Sutherland
So, the video quality is excellent, you’re not dependent on each other’s bandwidth, which is very common with other tools like Skype for Business. The lowest bandwidth actually affects everybody else on the call.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really?

Lisette Sutherland
That’s why it’s so bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Now I know.

Lisette Sutherland
That’s one of the reasons why that’s so bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I always kind of wondered. Zoom just kind of works better. I don’t know. Well, that’s probably why. Thank you.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, that’s part why for many. I’m a Skype for Business hater, by the way, so we won’t go down that route. But breakout rooms, so if you’re trying to make online meetings more engaging, or workshops, or anything more engaging, breakout rooms are the way to go. We do it in in-person workshops, we do it in in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions, so why wouldn’t we do it online? So, that’s the feature that I think makes Zoom like awesome. Plus, they have polling and whiteboards and some other fun things in

But some other fun tools that people wouldn’t know about, which I think would be more applicable for this podcast, are things like virtual offices. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an office that you go to online, and you’re looking at a floor plan, and on that floor plan you see these individual boxes and avatars. So, if you’re in that office, you can only see and hear the people that are in the same office as you, but you can double-click on another office and just pop yourself in, just like walking down the hall in a normal office building. You could just double-click, pop in, say hi, and then go back to your own

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. Is there a software website or platform I go to to get me a virtual office?

Lisette Sutherland
There are many. There’s like 25 different ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Okay.

Lisette Sutherland
My very favorite one is Sococo. That’s my very favorite. But there’s also Remo, Workabout Workplace. I mean, for every tool, there’s a million competitors. But I think they’re awesome because it creates a new kind of presence. And for people, when we’re online, we have all these meetings because we need to talk to each other, but you don’t want to just call because you don’t want to interrupt somebody. With a virtual office, you can see where people are, and see if they’re interruptible, and then go just like virtually knock on their door. So, these kinds of things, I think, are really changing the playing field in terms of what’s possible now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is really intriguing. And I hope there’s a virtual foosball table because that’s a lot of fun. Walk over to that and go poom, poom, poom.

Lisette Sutherland
You know, video games are the virtual foosball tables of today, right? And I encourage companies to actually put video games in their offices because that’s the modern-day version of the ping-pong table or foosball.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve recently been connecting with my buddy, Connor, in the pandemic by playing Fortnite, and it was just, I thought like, “Isn’t this for 12-year old boys?” He’s like, “Maybe but it’s so fun.” And so, I kind of got bit by the bug there. It really is fun.

Lisette Sutherland
I just bought myself an Oculus Quest.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Lisette Sutherland
I am amazed at how good it is. I did the ISS, the space station. You get to take a tour at the space station.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, also to your point about being asynchronous, boy, I love Loom myself, which is, if you’re not familiar, listeners, it’s a means by which I can record a video, a screen capture, of what I’m doing, so perfect for like constructions and processes and documents, like, “Hey, team, here’s how we’re going to do this thing. Here’s how you apply for this. Or, here’s how you vet a guest and determine if they’re worthy of an in-depth investigation, kind of whatever.”

And what’s cool about Loom, use Loom.com, is that it’s practically instantaneous in terms of click, it’s recording my screen, click, done, and like within seconds, here’s my link. And I found that impressive. So, Lisette, any other asynchronous tools that can be a really nice means of reducing the number of synchronous meetings?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I’m also a Loom fan. I use it with my assistants all the time because, yeah, it’s so great to show a video rather than type out email instructions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Instead of sending long emails, I might just say, “Hey, I made you a video response with Loom,” which is awesome.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah. And, actually, I think that that is, speaking of other asynchronous tools, people should be thinking more about instead of sending text messages, sending video messages with your screen, or showing something. But I guess, to get back to your question, the biggest tip I can give is if you’re still using email as your primary source of communication, you should be thinking about some sort of a group chat system, like Slack or Teams. I mean, there’s a million of them out there but Slack is probably the most popular at the

But companies that don’t have that yet, you don’t know how much pain you’re in. And, to be fair, I don’t think that these group instant messages systems they solve everything, but in terms of transparent and fast communication, if you’re using email for that, you can evolve and should evolve from there into some sort of a transparent platform.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit from tools now because we took the plunge and I think both of us can succumb to this. Well, so I’m curious about Slack and email in particular. In the realm of distractions, talking about that kind of ball of wax there, I find personally, because I’ve been remote working with my business for at least a decade here. But lately, in the particulars of the coronavirus pandemic, I find that I’m – obsessed might be a strong word – but I’m checking news frequently, more frequently than I need to or should or is advantageous for me.

And I think that that’s one source of distraction, is the pseudo-work work, “I need to be informed” you know? And another form of distraction could be maybe just too frequently checking out the Slack or the email because, yeah, you’re tired and that’s easy and you’re sort of curious, you want a novel stimulus. So, how do we slay that dragon?

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, this is a tough one. I think this is the thing that most people struggle with, and that’s boundaries, boundaries on our time and our attention. That is one of the lovely things about working in an office is that there is a very clear boundary on when work starts and when it ends. It’s pretty clear. And there’s a transition period of commuting in and commuting out of the office, so that’s also very clear. But when we’re like this and everything is freeform, we have to be self-disciplined and put boundaries in place for ourselves. And that is not to be underestimated in terms of its

I’m sure everybody, especially right now, back in the old days, I can’t believe I’m saying that, you used to get your newspaper once a day and that’s where you got your news. But, now, it’s like every time something happens, everybody is on it, like the whole world. You know everything happening wherever you want, anytime. You just have to find the right news source, right? And so, it’s really addicting, and especially when there’s something like this going on. It’s just like all-consuming.

So, in terms of distractions and notifications, one is you have got to get your own notifications under control for yourself, so whatever those rules are. For me I turn everything off. And then you’ve got a time box where you’re going to place your attention. So, for example, I allow myself to look at the news three times a day, like when I wake up because I can’t help. I want a cup of coffee and the news, that’s just what I want. After lunch, just as I transition into the afternoon, and then after dinner, just as a way to relax. And I feel like three times a day, if I can accomplish that, that’s pretty

But these boundaries, it’s super hard. And to make it more visceral for people, I usually use the analogy of weight loss. Like, we all know what the formula is for weight loss, right? Super easy. We move more and eat less. But if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that it’s not as simple as that formula, right? Like it is and it isn’t. It’s super hard to do. So, it’s the same with boundaries. Like, really easy to put boundaries in place, really hard to maintain them over long periods of

So, this is one of the great challenges. I think when you master this, you hit the golden ticket. But I haven’t mastered it myself. I’m constantly struggling with this, and always working

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it’s reassuring to hear that this is the golden ticket because that tends to be my own experience as well, is in the days that I’m successful at sort of having a plan, “Hey, during these times, this is what happens,” then things go excellently. And then when it gets all loosey-goosey, then it’s like, “Oh, today was kind of disappointing. I wanted to do five big, amazing, cool things, and I did two. Hmm, bummer.” So, yeah, I think that’s great. Time-boxing your attention, like, “These are the times that I will do this.” And so, you use news, but we could also say, “Check Slack messages, check email,” in those same ways. Well, with your many guests in your podcast or your own experience, have you encountered some best practices for sticking with those boundaries to getting the job done?

Lisette Sutherland
One of my favorites is from an academic life coach that I interviewed, Gretchen Wagner, and she teaches college students how to do study techniques. And what she said is, “Visualize your time.” So, we all know what we need to get done during the day, then put it on your calendar and visualize how much time each thing might take. So, like, “Okay, I’ve got to do finances today. I’m kind of estimating one and a half hours for email.” Actually, put it in your calendar as an event of like one and a half hour just so that you can manage your own expectations in terms of, because sometimes I have a list, and I’m like, “Oh, I could totally do that all in one day.” And then you get halfway through and it’s like, “I’m on crack. There’s no way you can do these all in one day. Had I visualized my time I might know that.” So, that would be

Another guy does a retrospective of his office once a year, who was Michael Sliwinski who does Nozbe. He also runs Productive! Magazine, that was a good interview actually. And he does a retrospective on his home office once a year, and he just goes through what’s working, what’s not working, and he just rearranges. And I think he said he takes everything out and then puts it all back in a new way or something. So, I was like, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea,” because I look around, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a few piles that there’s a few things that could be cleaned

The most common one, people use Pomodoro time technique, you know, 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, 25 minutes on, and then 10 minutes off. That’s my favorite. That’s one that I use because I’m not a morning person so I really need a rhythm to get going in the morning, otherwise I could just like sit at my desk and look at things for way too long. So, yeah, those are

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes. Well, that’s helpful. Thank you. I appreciate that. Well, maybe let’s shift gears a bit to, let’s call it management accountability, taking care of business. So, I think that for some people, working from home is like a joke that goes into scare quotes, like, “Ho, ho, what that really means is I’m doing almost nothing, and I’m occasionally checking my email.” So, we’ve talked about some ways to make that not the case with the infrastructure, with the boundaries. And so, I’m wondering, if you’re managing someone or collaborating with someone, then you really need them to handle their business. How do we do that well? You’re managing remotely versus being in person is a different game.

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, for sure. If you’re a micromanager, you’re going to hate remote working because you can’t, you simply can’t micromanage. There’s no way to do it. I’m sure you could put some sort of a monitoring system, keystroke, taking pictures of you in place, but I would never recommend that. I think it’s horrible. Nobody wants that. Think about yourself. Would you really want

What I would say. There’s three really important things. One is you want to set expectations so that everybody knows what success and failure look like. Remote working is results-oriented work. It’s not hours-based work. So, you want to set out what do you expect people to get accomplished and by when. And the more detailed you can be, the better it is,

Software, like agile software teams will use sprints of one or two weeks where they set out, they have a sprint-planning session, and they set out what they’re going to accomplish that week. And then at the end of the week, they have a demonstration of what they built, what they’ve done, and they do a retrospective over how it went, like what went well, what didn’t go well, how can they improve for the future. And then they set the next week’s sprint. So, that is a great way of doing results-based work and sort of taking small pieces as

So, really, setting expectations and what is the objective, and what are the results. And then get out of the way of your professionals as a leader. Like, you hired people because they’re supposed to have the ability to do a particular job. I think the role of the leader is to set the goal posts and then remove any impediment that might get in the way of that professional in getting to that goal post. So, that’s setting

Then number two would be creating a team agreement, so that is just outlining what are the best ways of working together. So, what kind of information do we need to share and where is it stored? Are there security protocols necessary to get to it? How are we going to communicate with each other? Which tools and what tools are you going to use for what? Are there expected response times, these kinds of things? And then collaboration, how do you know what each other are doing? And how are you giving each other

So, a standard team agreement, just setting out some basics. It doesn’t have to be a big rulebook but just setting out some basic guidelines and principles for how you’re going to work together so that you can avoid all the basic

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Lisette Sutherland
And then number three would be put feedback loops in place. These retrospectives that the agile software teams are awesome. I mean, it gives the team a chance to celebrate successes when they have them, it gives them a chance to blow steam when they need to blow steam, and it gives them also a chance to bring up little things that you might not bring up in the moment because it’s just too small, like talking about it might make it into a bigger thing than it is. But these retrospectives give you a space to just be like, “You know that thing you did last week? Like, totally annoying.” Sometimes you’ve got to just say that, you’ve got to just get it off your chest, otherwise it’ll explode in weird ways. So, I would say, as a manager, if you’ve got those things down, setting expectations, creating a team agreement, and putting feedback loops in place, you’re going to get

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so intriguing about that is that these practices would make all the difference for an in-person team as well.

Lisette Sutherland
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s easier for you to sort of lose track of what the heck is going on. And I think it just maybe, I thought to summarize, it’s just like the remote piece just makes it…it just sort of amplifies it all in terms of, like, you might notice that something is not working in person faster because you’re right there, as opposed to remotely, it’s like, you can maybe go weeks before you discover it’s not fine.

I also love that agile example. When you have to demonstrate the thing kind of publicly in a short timeframe, boy, there’s a boatload of accountability there in terms of so if you were goofing off and watching funny cat videos for the whole work day, you would either need to stay up late to get it done or embarrass yourself publicly, like, “Yeah, this doesn’t really work and I’m not done. Sorry, guys.” And then you’re like, “Note to self: Never do that again. That felt terrible.”

Lisette Sutherland
Right. Nobody wants to be in that position. So, yeah, you’re right. It amplifies the good and the bad. So, it’s going to amplify the George Costanzas on your team, you know, that are just always trying to get away with laziness, or it’s going to amplify, you know, if they’re rock stars, they’re going to be rock stars remote as well. But it’s going to amplify communication challenges. And I would say, when you’re in person, you can be sloppy about some of these things. And when you’re remote, you cannot be sloppy. You need these systems in place.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said. Then, at the same time though, remote does have really cool advantages. And I guess there’s a debate on whether you are more or less productive when remote. And you said your studies, your research reveals that most people would prefer, in their dreamworld, to have a combo of sometimes in the office with the colleagues and sometimes remote. So, I don’t want to use the word hacks, but what are the special opportunities that are possible when remote working that really boost productivity that we don’t have access to when we are obligated to go to an office?

For example, I was just chatting with some guys in my men’s group, and we said, “Hey, one thing that’s cool about remote work is that I can sort of rearrange my day how I want it. Like, I might take a shower at 10:00 a.m. after doing an hour, an hour and a half of work just because I’m having a sleepy lull time, and why not be under hot water because I’m not going to get much done at the computer, and then I’m rejuvenated from having had the shower to do another round of work.” So, I think that’s pretty cool. It’s not as easy to do in a workplace, “Hey, see you soon, boss. I’m going to take my 10:00 a.m. shower. Be right back.” Probably not as doable.

Lisette Sutherland
I mean, you could but nobody would do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lisette Sutherland
I think that’s the number one thing is, one, designing your lifestyle around, because I’m that person. I’m like I do my shower late, or I like to just get to work, and then a few hours later, I’m like, “Okay, I need a break.” And then I go running, and then take my shower, and then continue, so that’s totally me. But there’s also all kinds of things. Like, when I used to work in an office, it was always freezing cold in the office, like I was freezing. I had sweaters and all kinds of stuff. It’d be like superhot outside and I was in my sweater in the

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisette Sutherland
So, there’s temperature which is never good. There’s noise which you can’t control. I have a little candle that I burn on my desk, it’s like this cute little candle thing in here. And so, you couldn’t do that in an office. You’re not getting people burning candles at their desks. And, also, in between my virtual meetings, I like to do some jumping jacks, or squats, or just something that gets the blood

Pete Mockaitis
Or take a nap.

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, I’m not a napper.

Pete Mockaitis
You dance.

Lisette Sutherland
I’ve never been a napper. Yeah, but you could dance. I’d dance for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
You could be ridiculous.

Lisette Sutherland
And I would never do it at the office. But, here, I just have to close the curtain so that the neighbor can’t see me, but I can just boogie down. And I think that that’s pretty great.

Pete Mockaitis
It is.

Lisette Sutherland
You can just design your productivity. So, yeah, if you have the right space.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s intriguing. Maybe the master key or theme there is like wherever there is a social norm that is preventing or compelling you to do something that’s not actually valuable, you can kind of just chuck it, it’s like, “I’m going to have a dance party. I’m going to work in my underwear. I’m going to take a nap. I’m going to take…” You can kind of be as weird as you need to be if it’s helpful and productive.

Lisette Sutherland
And I think if you are getting your results done, then I say, “Let your freak flag,” because, I mean, it’s great. We’re all diverse. I just think, “Great. If you’re getting your work done, have a really good time.” And it’s great that we can reward results instead of time because if two people are doing a marketing report, and one person, it takes them a whole week to do it, and the other person, it takes him four hours to do it, well, good for the person that took four hours. If they’re the same quality, great. We should be rewarding people getting things done, not how long they take. I can draw stuff out forever if you’re paying me on an

I remember being in an office thinking like, “What’s the rush? I can just work on this forever,” kind of thing. But now that I work for myself, it’s just like, “Okay, I’ve got like three deadlines. I got to get it done. I’m on the ball.” So, it’s just different motivations.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. That’s well-said. Well, I’d love it if you have any other random tips, tricks, tools, do’s, don’ts before we hear about some of your favorite things. I got to chime in one real quick because I’m at looking them. I love earplugs, I think, at an office or at home. My door blocks a lot of the noise but sometimes two-year old’s screams will still penetrate it and really catch my attention. And I guess primally that’s what they’re supposed to do. So, earplugs plus noise-cancelling headphones is just lose all track of everything else but the work. It’s pretty fun. So, what else do you want to make sure to mention before we hear some favorite things?

Lisette Sutherland
Well, I would say use visual cues. When you’re using video, that’s one of the benefits because, for instance, you can use cards to

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, you’re on mute.” That’s so cool.

Lisette Sutherland
…”Hey, you’re on mute,” or, “Dang, it’s totally awesome. I really love that

Pete Mockaitis
Did you make those cards? Where do I get them?

Lisette Sutherland
Yes, they’re on the website. I could send you a pack. I’ll send you a pack.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Lisette Sutherland
Or if you want just to express, like, “Oh, I love the idea. I love the

Pete Mockaitis
She’s holding the cards. We’re audio only. Just to make sure they don’t miss it, Lisette. She’s holding up cool cards that say things like, “Awesome,” or “Heart,” or “You’re on mute,” or, “Should we record?” And so, it enables you to convey a message without interrupting somebody, and just sort of make it interesting and visually dynamic. That’s brilliant.

Lisette Sutherland
And beautiful. And I would say one of the best cards, the most popular card out there after “You’re on mute” because that one everybody does, is this one, and it’s called “Elmo” and it stands for “Enough! Let’s move on.” And this is for that person in your meetings online or in-person that just goes on and on and on. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s probably you, right? But this is your visual indicator to let that person know because they’re going on and on because they don’t know that you’re ready to move on. So, if you can just show them, “Okay, got it. Let’s go on to the next point.” So, that takes your

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so handy about those cards, I’m not trying to be an ad for you but I am, that’s fine, is that different platforms will have emojis or whatever, but a lot of times, I think in Slack, like it’s sort of often the default is to be hidden, like in the chat box, and it’s like, “Oh, there’s a chat. Let me click it,” versus, if you’re going on and on, you will probably not stop to click it.

Lisette Sutherland
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And if multiple people are holding up the “Enough! Let’s move on” card, it’s like, “Okay, that’s very clear. A strong majority got the point.”

Lisette Sutherland
Yeah, like one Elmo where it doesn’t have to change the conversation but if, all of a sudden, four or five, then you know, people are done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, Lisette, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lisette Sutherland
It’s a very simple one but I think it’s perfectly apt in this time, and it’s from Mr. Rogers, so I love it even more knowing that it’s from that. And I don’t know the exact quote, but he says something of, “Look for and be one of the helpers.” So, I really like that because it speaks to me on a number of levels. In these times where everybody is stressed, and everybody is going through something difficult, the whole world is at the moment, that we need to be looking for opportunities and ways to help each other just to take some of the bleakness out.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Lisette Sutherland
This one is a bit of a silly one so I won’t spend too much time on it. But there is a bit of research that shows that when one person has spoken once in a meeting, they’re more likely to speak again. So, this bit of research, I think, is my favorite because it gives you an opportunity, or makes the case for using icebreaker questions, or warmup questions, or check-ins before a meeting starts. I use them for all my meetings with teams that I know really well.

I just do a quick silly icebreaker question, like, favorite food, favorite vacation spot, or, “Take a picture of your shoes and show us what’s on your feet,” just something.
And there’s a lot of kickback against icebreakers, but i would say that it doesn’t have to be silly. You could also use things like, “What are you hoping to get out of this meeting today? Why did you come? Or what are you hoping to contribute to this meeting today?” So just getting people to state so it doesn’t have to be silly. But I think icebreakers, and the research that shows when people have spoken once, they’re more likely to speak again, I think that that’s encouraging for all my meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Lisette Sutherland
One book that I really, really love, and it’s going to be a professional one, I’ve got it right here because I’ve been using it a lot, is this book called Beyond Bullet Points.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I got that one.

Lisette Sutherland
It’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
I think mine was the first edition. Oh, that’s nice.

Lisette Sutherland
Oh, you see I’ve used it quite often. But I think people’s presentations are just terrible most of the time. I mean, talk about, you know, they’re always like tons of bullet points with eight-point font. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot read and listen at the same time. I just can’t do it. I can’t multitask maybe. So, this book Beyond Bullet Points if you’re giving a presentation, or you’re doing anything online, use this book because it tells you how to create a compelling story even if you’re not a good storyteller, and it tells you how to create compelling slides even if you’re not a designer. So, that’s my favorite book right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? You’ve mentioned a few.

Lisette Sutherland
Right now, the Oculus Quest is my favorite tool right now. Really, I’m blown away by the experience as you could have. I’ve been canoeing in the Artic, I’ve been at the International Space Station, and it feels…I’m learning Tai chi, like I’m doing all the calm stuff because it makes me really nauseated, but I’m really enjoying the experience. Virtual reality is so great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it sounds like such a great way to get out when you can’t get out.

Lisette Sutherland
Totally. That’s why I bought it, I was like, “I want to be able to have some sort of outdoor experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Lisette Sutherland
At the moment, my favorite habit is intermittent fasting, and I’m really enjoying that. I do it so that I don’t eat between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. So, it’s not a severe fast or anything but I feel better when I like it. So, that’s the habit I’m going to keep.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that people really connect with and you’re known for?

Lisette Sutherland
The super cards, that’s definitely so. And beyond that, people know that I’m really crazy about telepresence robots, and I just think the potential for telepresence robots are great. So, if you don’t know what they are, they’re drivable robots where you beam in just like any video conferencing tool, and you drive them using the arrow keys on your keyboard. And what I like is that it simulates a human in the office. And so, if you’re one of the only remote people in an all in-person company, beaming in via robot can be an awesome way of giving yourself more presence in that office. It sounds really far out but these things are pretty inexpensive these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Lisette Sutherland
CollaborationSuperpowers.com. Everything is there. Everything.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Lisette Sutherland
For all the people that don’t like turning their videos on, just try it. Just try it on a couple of calls and see what the difference is. So, I know that’s a simple one but I think in these times, we need to learn how to connect and be closer in new ways, and video calls, I think, are the way to do it. It’s your one step into the new reality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lisette, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you lots of luck in all of your superpower collaborative adventures.

Lisette Sutherland
Thank you. I really appreciate it.